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Chasing Ghosts – 10 images of Africa’s most elusive big cat

Well, it’s Saturday – I mean Caturday – so what better reason is there to share this experience with you? Our trip to the African continent was filled with stories and tall tales on a majestic scale, addictive adventures that only this ancient land can provide. But for fear of endless digression, I will concentrate on this single experience.

We left our luxurious lodge at first light, casually rolling out onto the sandy roads that criss-crossed Samburu Game Reserve. Dik-diks darted across the road, an Eastern Chanting Goshawk and a Tawny Eagle tickled our photographic glands in the gentle morning light. There was something amiss, however. I got the feeling that our guide and driver had something up their sleeve. And oh boy, did they. What was waiting for us was far beyond what we expected.

Of course long before we even left T&T, once this trip to Kenya was a go, there was one animal I kept on day-dreaming about. Leopards are high on everyone’s list, but not everyone is gifted the opportunity to fully enjoy this beautiful cat. To think that we would not only see one, but two – and to make it even better, it was a mother and her cub! Apparently she had made a kill overnight, and morning found her and her cub still munching away at the former impala (it seems).

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In true motherly fashion, the cub had his fill first, and with comfort in the belly, he had enough energy to pad towards us, his ears looking much too large for his little head. A sure sign of the size he will attain in the future.

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After dosing us with attitude, he decided we weren’t interesting enough. Photographically it was one of the most challenging situations I had never experienced before. Turned out to be just another plug for shooting in manual mode.

Tough to imagine what life is like for this little one, even a simple walk over the hill turned into a maze through the tall grasses. The little cub drifted in and out of sight, even though he was physically no more than a hundred feet away. Those rosettes really serve their purpose!

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All the while we were engrossed in the little cub, his mother sat quietly in the thicket, the silence broken only occasionally by the crunching of bone. Ever so often, she would look up and make eye contact like only a cat can.

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Before long, she had her fill and got up, stretched and man, if I didn’t have pictures to prove it I’m certain you wouldn’t believe this – but the cat walked toward us, plopped down and began calling to her cub, almost too close for me to fit her in my frame! I had to turn my camera to portrait orientation and I still managed to clip her long, beautiful tail in many of the frames.

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Very small complaint, however. After calling for a bit, she began to lick her chops and wash her face. Again, right in front of us. It’s like a front seat at a concert of a band you really wanted to see for a couple decades. Except you didn’t actually reserve the seat and the performance was all up to chance.

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By this point, I was completely overflowing with emotions I never knew existed within me. I sat, camera on my lap, just staring at this drop dead gorgeous cat do her thing and felt completely humbled by her presence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eventually she slipped off and began calling her cub again. We followed her for some more time, completely flabbergasted by her insane ability to melt into the surroundings.

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I even switched to a shorter focal length for a different perspective as she moved around.

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Our final glimpse was perhaps the most enchanting of all. As we were driving away, she was actually walking parallel to our vehicle and crossed the trail in front of us. She slid through the grass like water in a stream, pausing only to give us what might have been a passing glance from her perspective – but for me, this will last a lifetime.

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