Cute vs Cute: Part 2

23 09 2011

In part two of the difficult choice showdown, we have, (said in the same ring side announcers voice) the challenger… tipping the scales at a massive 6 pounds flat, representing the flat rocks on the eastern bank of the Sand River… an adorable little leopard cub!

Now the two on one fight is not usually fair, but this little chap brings a few extra weeks experience to the table, aging comfortably at between six to eight weeks.

The little blighter was found completely by chance, while watching kudu feeding nearby the rocky den. The spotted fluff ball made a dash across the rocks, giving away the den site, and allowing us a unique photographic opportunity! When he realized he had been seen, he went for the tried and trusted, ‘stand still’ approach that leopards instinctively use. The near foolproof technique almost worked, but the human frontal lobe won the battle, and I managed to find him again.

Amazingly, he relaxed up to the vehicle almost immediately, and allowed for a good photo session. He moved cautiously around the large rocks for a while, and then very casually rested in some shade, right next to me!

So there we have it, the throw down has been…thrown down… Which ball of fluff takes the title of the cutest cub?

Cute vs Cute: Part 1

16 09 2011

Two sightings have produced one very difficult choice. Which one is actually the cutest?

In part one of this showdown, we have, (said in ring side announcers voice) weighing in at a combined weight of eight pounds two ounces, hailing from a rocky outcrop in the north of the reserve… two of the cutest little lion cubs I have ever seen!
I managed to get a glimpse of these little chaps at between three and four weeks old! Unbelievable luck!
It all started with a sighting of the female, moving through some pretty tall grass. When she moved through an open patch, a couple balls of fluff were scampering around her feet. I managed a few glimpses through the grass, but no pics were on offer.
Being a seasoned pro, (the mother of the cubs is the oldest female in her pride, at roughly sixteen years), she felt comfortable enough around the vehicle to move out onto the road – and where mom goes, the cubs will follow! This produced an amazing opportunity to get some shots!

They were full of energy, and seemed to be enjoying their first outing into the real world, and in a world where danger lies waiting around every corner, there is a certain freedom afforded to the cubs of the top of the food chain!

In part two, we will have a look at the challenger…

You little beauty

24 08 2011

In wildlife photography, there is only one thing better than luck – a relaxed individual! Combine the two, and you will get images that I never dreamed possible!
A young serval kitten has recently left her mother, and is starting life out on her own. Surprisingly, she seems very relaxed about the business of surviving!

Now, finding servals is not easy, (see Slightly smaller spots.), but finding them in the day, is a near impossibility! This little lady, however, is going against all the textbooks! She is as relaxed as you like, and seems to be more active in the day, than at night. This makes photographing her a whole lot easier! It also helps, that if you are patient enough, she walks right up to you, and poses beautifully!
I was patient enough; she posed beautifully!

At one point, she smoothed past a LBJ, (little brown job – a term for an unknown bird {turned out to be a Cisticola}), and I thought I was in for the shot of a lifetime, (see the serval flying through the air, bird in claws), but after a quick look, she decided to keep at the mice, her meal of choice. She did catch one or two, but in a scrappy fashion, (read: No photos), not the usual glamorous leap they are famous for. I will keep trying for that shot!

I will continue hanging around the areas where she has been seen, as this treat might not last forever. Whatever happens, I will definitely let you know!

Birds, bees and leopards!

29 07 2011

It was a simple case of boy meets girl – except the boy is a stealthy killing machine, capable of dragging a little more than his own body weight up a tree with only his teeth and claws, and his lady the same, with a pinch of feisty sprinkled on top!

Making baby leopards is a complicated affair. Firstly, leopards are solitary animals, and although they do meet up from time to time, there is always a lot of hissing, growling and general hating. Secondly, the male has a barbed penis, enough to cause any relationship to struggle… What this means is, when leopards mate, there is an explosive reaction after each session. Great to photograph!

I spent a lucky day with just such a couple, and witnessed the passionate sexcapades.
After each session, the female does her level best to smack the living daylights out of the male, (remember the barbed penis), and he tries his best to get out of the way of said claws! The result: a series of images I am quite chuffed with, and a few fresh scars for the young lover!

Slightly smaller spots.

17 05 2011

Night time in African bush holds many secrets, and staying out a little after dark can produce some interesting results. I have been spending some extra time out in the bush after dark, hoping for just the luck I have had.
A number of serval cats have been kind enough to pop into my spotlight recently, and even more surprisingly, stayed long enough to be photographed. I am based in an area known for its big cats, in particular the leopard, which usually means you can expect to find very few servals. Leopards are the biggest concern in a serval’s world, as they are known to kill them frequently. Somehow, this population of servals has managed to gain a strong foothold in the area, and have recently been seen with some regularity.
The massive ears of the serval often give it away before you see the spots. They use their larger than normal ears to pin point the exact hide out their mousy prey is in. Then, they set themselves for their highlight; a speedy and precise leap, which lands them directly on top of the mouse. The kill is quick and quiet, keeping the fuss to a minimum.
They are also tall cats, standing about twice the height of an average house cat, which gives them the vantage point over the rodents to try picking their way carefully through the long grass, without giving away their position.
It is difficult, however, to get a real understanding of the individuals, because the grass is still quite high – even though we are heading into winter, late rains have kept the bush thicker than usual – so getting a good look is restricted. Amazingly, through the grass and the excitement, I have been able to get some images.

Slap ‘n tickle

9 05 2011

Any sort of mammal behaviour is fun to watch, and especially photograph, so I was delighted to come across a female leopard teaching her young male cub a quick lesson. The two had been separated for a few days while the mother was out on the hunt, and reunited with a little more vigour than usual.
The cub, who is about 20 months, was in the mood to test out his stalking and pouncing skills, and surprised his mother with a claw filled welcome. She reacted immediately, and had him subdued almost instantly. Sheepishly, he went limp, submitting to his more cunning mother, and she let him go. In a flash, he was back up and stalking her again, trying his luck in an unsurprising second ambush. She knew this game well, as she has raised numerous litters of cubs over the years.
She let him give chase for a few yards, before quickly turning the tables, and again pinning him down. It was a great display of maternal care mixed with extreme athleticism. Remembering the games she used to play as a cub, and all the times she had patiently sat and been ‘hunted’ by her previous litters, gave her all the experience she needed to teach him a thing or two.
This she did, until he eventually lost interest in the games, and they moved off together to a kill that she had stashed in a tree nearby.
He continues to harass his mother on a near daily basis, and will do so until the day he finally leaves her care and assumes independence, all the while building his muscles, honing his skills, and practicing being a leopard.
I can only hope that I get the chance to see the two leopards at play again.

The Cruel Reality.

27 12 2010

Africa’s wilds are run by its own rules. There is no time to relax – if you drop your guard, even for a second, it could be your end.
That is the sad story of a young male leopard cub, which, at three and a half months old, bounded with gay abandon into a deadly patch of Buffalo grass.

The female leopard; the mother of two cubs, was moving her cubs along a dry river bed late in the morning. It was a good time to move the cubs, because the sun was scorching anything and everything that moved out the relatively cool shade, nullifying most big cat movement for the rest of the day.
The two cubs scurried around their mother, taking interest in anything that moved. They stalked, pounced and mauled anything that stood still long enough, often loosing their battles to butterflies whipping away on their colourful wings and winning against blades of grass that dangled over the pathway. The female kept a watchful eye on the cubs, softly calling them back to the pathway every now and again. She would stop at regular intervals, sniffing the air, using every tool at her disposal to navigate Africa’s daily gauntlet.
The young male cub pushed on ahead, and followed his nose into the Buffalo grass. He stumbled straight into three lionesses which were resting in the shade.
It was a panicked few seconds.
It resulted in the instant death of the young male cub, which stood no chance against the 150kg lioness. The female and the other cub managed to scramble away to safety.
I had found the young trio only two days before the incident, and managed to capture some images of the young male cub.
It isn’t always easy understanding or accepting the cruel reality of nature. The system is flawless however, and left untouched, maintains the equilibrium that is the eternal struggle.