While the racing thud of our heart beats may not have been audible to our insensitive human ears, I wonder if the dull pounding echoed in those of the massive leopard that silently strolled our way. He tolerated us with a veteran expertise that half-ignored us as we jockeyed for position, and half seemed to play with us, the constant click of our dSLRs, the bright glare of our spotlights and the dull rumble of our land cruisers thundering across the otherwise tranquil African landscape.
In the moment, there was little room for fear. It was driven out by the excitement of having a large male leopard strut its way towards us, only turning to walk around the vehicle slowly but with purpose less than 5 feet off the nose of our land cruiser. In retrospect though, it is amazing to think how casual and calm an experience it was given the powerful predatory nature of Leopards and their position as one of Africa’s top predators. In the blink of an eye he could have closed the gap, leapt into the exposed bench seats of the cruiser, and caused us significant harm.
Yet, that’s the strange relationship between safari goers and big predators. So long as you stay in the vehicle, respect their space, and keep your head about you…they’re content to leave you be. To watch you as you watch them. You know they can smell you, even if their eyesight doesn’t let them make out the distinct shape of your figure. They know you’re there, but they’re content to focus on their normal prey, and their normal day-to-day activities. Allowing safari goers to follow and interact with them, at a basic level, as a mixture of voyeur and paparazzi.
It is an incredible experience. One that I hope this photo from a night Safari with Shenton Safaris (Kaingo.com) in South Luangwa, Zambia helps showcase.