Outdoorphoto Blog » The sighting of a lifetime – Leopard catches an African wild cat

The sighting of a lifetime – Leopard catches an African wild cat

BEGINNER

People often ask what the secret is to great sightings in the Kgalagadi, and the answer is no secret – you just have to be out there and the rest is largely up to luck. After an extremely quiet week in the Auob riverbed we were beginning to think ours had finally run out, and finding out that we’d spent one too many nights at Mata Mata campsite when we should have been at Nossob campsite (from where stories of cheetah hunts, leopard sightings, and lion kills had been plaguing us all week) didn’t do much to lighten the mood.

Leopard walking over rocky hill

Such was the atmosphere in our vehicle when we set off down the Auob towards Nossob, but not for long. A spontaneous decision to turn left down the split towards Thirteenth Borehole waterhole led us to the discovery of a female leopard walking along the calcrete ridge separating the two roads. Four years studying leopards in Botswana has given Villiers an impressive leopard-spotting superpower and it was only this uncanny ability that stopped us from driving right past her distant and well-camouflaged body winding between the three-thorn bushes.

“She’s agitated, look at her tail”, he said, indicating the light flicking of the white tip of her curled tail. So, she was either annoyed by the cars that had by then accumulated along both roads or she was on the hunt.

Leopard walking over rocky hill

You’d think that studying leopards in the wild for four years would provide ample opportunity to witness leopard hunts and kills, but in all that time Villiers had never seen one. We didn’t expect much to change with that particular sighting, but we continued following her as she wound back and forth across the ridge because, well, you never know.

She came and went, disappearing over the horizon for minutes at a time before heading back over to our side. Most of the vehicles trailing us left to try their luck on the other side, where the road runs a little closer to where she was walking, but we decided to trust our gut and stay where we were.

Leopard walking through Savannah

No sooner had the last car left for the other side where she had been for a couple of minutes, than a scuffle at the top of the dune brought our cameras up clicking before we even realised what we were photographing. The chase was over in a matter of seconds, and it was only checking through our photographs while the hunter was resting with her kill that we realised exactly what it was she had killed: an African wild cat.

There was no time to consider the rarity of the sighting before she was up and heading back over the ridge again. Whipping round to the top road and past the other cars, Villiers managed to catch one final shot of our subject, her wildcat kill swinging limply from her mouth.

Photographing a leopard in the wild is pretty spectacular, and photographing a leopard in the wild in the Kalahari even more so, but photographing a leopard killing a wild cat in the Kalahari has planted itself at the top of our best sightings list for the foreseeable future.

Leopard chasing a wild cat

No sooner had the last car left for the other side where she had been for a couple of minutes, than a scuffle at the top of the dune brought our cameras up clicking before we even realised what we were photographing. The chase was over in a matter of seconds, and it was only checking through our photographs while the hunter was resting with her kill that we realised exactly what it was she had killed: an African wild cat.

There was no time to consider the rarity of the sighting before she was up and heading back over the ridge again. Whipping round to the top road and past the other cars, Villiers managed to catch one final shot of our subject, her wildcat kill swinging limply from her mouth.

Photographing a leopard in the wild is pretty spectacular, and photographing a leopard in the wild in the Kalahari even more so, but photographing a leopard killing a wild cat in the Kalahari has planted itself at the top of our best sightings list for the foreseeable future.

Leopard hunting a wild cat

Photography

This series of photographs were photographed with a Canon 7D and a Canon 100-400 mm lens. The combination of bright sunlight and an ISO of 400 allowed for a nice fast shutter speed of 1/1250 sec at f/8.0, which was more than enough to freeze the action.

In situations like this, where you anticipate some kind of movement, it’s crucial to activate continuous shooting before the action starts. It’s also useful to switch over to continuous focus tracking (AI Servo on Canon and AF-C on Nikon), so that you can concentrate only on keeping the animals in the frame when you depress the shutter. Most importantly, don’t zoom in too much! It’s always worthwhile leaving a bit of extra space around running, fighting or jumping animals, because their body parts easily get cut off when you’re in too tight. Last but not least, don’t hesitate! Take as many photos as quickly as you can, because you never know when you’ll see something as incredible again…

Leopard hunting a wild cat

TOP TIP:

Follow the progress of the Kgalagadi Leopard Project by liking their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/KTPLeopards?ref=ts&fref=ts

By sending leopard photos taken in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park to the project researchers, you help them to determine the movement patterns and lifespans of the park’s leopards. Best of all, they’ll let you know exactly who you photographed. The leopard that killed the wild cat is called Tsamma.

Leopard with wild cat kill

About the Author:

Villiers Steyn is a freelance travel- and wildlife photographer based in Hoedspruit, South Africa. He leads photographic safaris for Tusk Photo and has had his work published in leading travel magazines, including go!, DriveOut, Getaway, Country Life and Travel Africa.

One Comment

  1. John Blake March 2, 2016 at 11:38 am - Reply

    Absolutely fabulous! Just got to keep shooting to get pics like these. Very well done. Can’t wait to get back to the Kgalagadi in October…

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