Photographing a leopard drinking at night

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A large territorial male leopard known as the Emsagwen male stares off into the dark!

Although sometimes active during the day, leopards are predominantly active at night. A large territorial male like this will spend the majority of his night patrolling the boundary of his territory scent-marking and roaring to advertise his presence. As guides we were taught right from the outset how to recognize and identify the different individuals that lived on and sometimes frequented the Mala Mala game reserve. Both the males and females are initially named after their parents and carry a name such as the daughter of the Ngoboswan female or the son of the Kikilezi female until they reach sexual maturity and establish a territory. Once they’ve established a territory they are then named after a prominent road, river or landmark. The Emsagwen male initially came  to the Mala Mala property from the adjacent Kruger National Park. He was frequently found around a watering hole known as Emsagwen waterhole and after a few years he established a territory that more or less had the watering hole at its center, hence his name.

From the day I first dreamed of photographing a leopard drinking at night I had imagined their would be no better candidate than him. Unfortunately as any wildlife photographer will know this is not something that can just be planned or arranged and so I had to wait patiently for roughly 18 months before everything fell into place. Late one evening my guests and I found him about a mile south of Emsagwen watering hole walking directly north along a game trail. We were one of the last landrovers out and so only one other responded to our call, deciding to delay heading in for dinner in favor of turned out to be an incredible sighting. We followed him from a safe distance as he slowly continued in the general direction of the watering hole, scent-marking and/or roaring every 300 feet or so. In his usual confident and very relaxed way he continued in the general direction of the watering hole and 30min after finding him he finally arrived. I positioned my vehicle across from where I thought he might drink and hoped for the best. He didn’t waste much time and after pausing for about thirty seconds went in for a drink. The other landrover arrived just in time. The first photo in this post was taken just after he had finished drinking. He is lying on the bank of the water hole and appears to be listening to something out of our site. The second image is the one I waited so patiently for and is with out a doubt one of my all time favorites. It is of him, the Emsagwen male drinking from Emsagwen water hole.

We had to rush back to be in time for dinner and so throughout the rest of the evening I could hardly contain myself as the excitement of downloading the images occupied my thoughts.

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