Saturday, 4 October 2014

Leopards at Okonjima Reserve

Okonjima in Namibia is the place to go if you want to see leopard and cheetah in their natural environment.  There you can see the Africat organisation in action, caring for rehabituated cats in its 200 square kilometre reserve. 
Radio collars are fitted to the cats and also to some of the other animals in the reserve (hyena and wild dogs) so they can find them if they need medical attention and of course for visitors to have achance of seeing the animals up close.  I have done several leopard drives on my two visits - you usually find at least one of the cats in the park - but you don't necessarily see them!  Leopard like to hide in the day, choosing the densest thickets well away from the 4WD tracks that criss-cross the park. If this happens the best you can hope to get is a disappearing cat as it heads off at speed in another direction. This trip we were lucky. The first cat that registered on the guide's VHF tracker sloped off when we go near leaving six photographers with not enough time to turn their cameras on.  Conversely we spotted the second cat walking towards us along a grassed river bed - or at least we saw its tail.  I clicked away and came up  with this hilarious shot - all tail but still no cat.  He slumped into the undergrowth and after some very clever manoeuvring through the bush, we got a clear view.  In typical fashion the cat took no notice of us, preferring to close its eyes and nap in the heat of the later afternoon. Occasionally we got shots when a sudden rustle or animal call made the cat lift its head to check. 

The last leopard sighting was as the light was almost gone - even 12,800 ISO was not fast enough to get a sharp shot so we all sat back and enjoyed the moment.
If you take the educational tour you get to meet either/or Lewa.  I photographed Wahu last year - this year it was Lewa that was called on.  The organisation have a number of rescue cats that have lived with humans - usually as 'pets'. This means that they can never really survive in the wild. At Africat they live in a huge enclosure - 5 or 7 hectares and only come close to the hide when it is feeding time. It's a great opportunity to get uninterrupted shots of these magnificent creatures in the (semi-) wild without their radio collars.

Lewa snacking on a donkey chop.

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