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Lessons with leopards

Lessons with leopards

Game Ranger, Amy Attenborough spends a great deal of time in the wild. At Londolozi, leopard sightings are a frequent safari treat to see in their natural habitat, and capture on film too

The Art of Seeing: What a Mistake Can Teach You…

Words and Pictures: Amy Attenborough at Londolozi Game Reserve

“Wherever you are, be all there”– Jim Elliot

I consider myself to be a photographer. Not a great one but someone who gets joy from taking photographs and for me, that’s the definition of a photographer. And the basic rule of photography is to come prepared. This means full memory cards, charged batteries and your camera at hand so that when the action begins, you’re ready to strike. So recently, when I had one of my most special sightings of the Mashaba female leopard when she was still being seen with both of her cubs and I ran out of battery life, I was taught a very valuable lesson.


The Mashaba female with her young male and female cub taken a few months ago. Here she used to hide the cubs in amongst rocky crevices to keep them safe.

As photographers, we tend to always have our noses firmly glued to our cameras and keep one eye resolutely peering through our viewfinder. And in a way, we add a physical and emotional barrier to whatever it is that we’re viewing. As you work to get the settings right or frame up the picture just so, your mind is slightly distracted and the ‘work’ in that situation distances you from what it is that you’re photographing. Your eyes are also only taking in what is actually going on in your narrowed field of vision and as a result you don’t also see what may be happening on the periphery. And this is definitely one of the reasons why photographers are typically better able to watch sightings that other people may find too difficult to watch, for example, a lion killing a buffalo.

One of the cubs plays with a branch as the evening sets in around them. Play is a hugely important part of the cub’s development and is one of the reasons these animals are such fun to spend time with.

So when that awful red flashing light warning me that my battery was running low eventually gave way and my camera went dead, I suddenly woke up to what I had been missing out on. I put down my camera, picked up my binoculars and allowed myself to become completely absorbed in the scene unfolding in front of me. I watched as these two little joyous cubs played just meters from my vehicle. I saw the unfiltered expressions on their faces as they stalked one another and watched the look of pride they had when they grabbed a ball of elephant dung in their jaws and carried it as if it was their latest kill. I really paid attention to the noises they made as they begged their mother for milk and as she grumpily reprimanded them because there was no shutter sound to distract me. Time slowed down because now my attention was focused purely on them and I sensed no frustration because I wasn’t worrying about settings or light or getting grumpy with myself when I missed ‘the shot’.

IMG_8780The Mashaba female and one of her cubs allo-grooming. Due to the typically solitary nature of leopards, it is always special to share in moments such as this.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still love taking photographs and do not plan to stop any time soon. I get great joy from trying to capture the moment so that I can share it with you (which is why I even took a short video of the sighting on my phone so that you too can re-live that moment). However, it was a poignant reminder that out here it’s not always about what you can capture with your camera but also what you can capture with your mind, because if I’m being honest with myself, it is this sighting that has really been burnt to my memory. I know that more than in any other sighting, I’ll be able to conjure up the exact expressions I saw on those cubs faces for many years to come because I was taught on that day what Jim Elliot so succinctly captures in his phrase; “Wherever you are, be all there”.

So I encourage you to sit back and just watch this four minute, completely raw and unedited footage of these youngsters at play. I hope you too enjoy the pleasure of being all there.

Written, Photographed and Filmed by Amy Attenborough

Original republished with special permission from Londolozi Game Reserve.

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