The only way to describe it is to detail the events that played out in front of us.
I was hosting a photo workshop through my company C4 Images and Safaris and we were up at Mashatu in Botswana happily photographing away for 4 days in the wilderness.
On our second night there, I was spending time at a white fronted bee-eater colony in the golden hours of the sun set. We got a call on the radio that our other vehicle had found a “leopard lying inside a dead log” I enquired if it was the leopard or the log that was dead and the reply was positively floral, so we headed on towards the leopard expecting to see a leopard sleeping inside a hardly visible log.
How wrong we all were! Firstly we were only about 4 minutes away and as we rounded the riverbed, we saw this feline regally posed on top of a dead Leadwood stump that had been washed down in the floods. It was a nature photographer’s perfect set up. The leopard was lying about 2 m up on the log- perfect eye level for us, the log was in the middle of a wide, dry river bed, meaning there were no distractions or leaves. Even the bank was about 20m away, providing the perfect backdrop. You could not have asked for more… or so we thought. Everyone on the vehicle said it was the best leopard set up they had ever seen and had waited all their life for such an opportunity. Of course, we all used the opportunity well!
We started getting our images and were planning all our different positions that we were to work from when I saw behind the vehicle a porcupine walking across the riverbed and start to nibble on some protruding roots in the bank. It wasn’t 10 seconds later that the leopard had also seen the porcupine and he went from highly relaxed, to highly alert! He got up, stared and began his stalk with serious intent.
From there it was full adrenaline. The leopard is a 2 year old male and hence still young and curious. His play/hunt with the porcupine was a 25-minute battle of the leopard touching and trying to get to the porcupine; whilst the rodent would always push his quills towards the cat and every now and then rattle his quills in a very frightening manner. Every time the porcupine did this, the leopard would jump up in fright! It was really humorous. We saw all manner of behaviour; the leopard tried various techniques to get under the porcupine. He even rolled upside down, almost trying to induce play!
Technically it was very difficult to photograph. The sun had set and it was quite dark in the riverbed. Luckily Nikon had lent me the excellent D3 and I had the opportunity to really test its high iso performance. Most of the images here were all taken at iso 2500. I have only done a quick basic edit on them. No layers, or noise reduction. I was really impressed with the results and made a very marginal photographic sighting something quite workable for me. A few years ago this scene would not have been possible to photograph effectively- now I even had creative latitude to experiment in such marginal conditions- A stament to technology and to Nikon.
Eventually the leopard gave up and lay down. The porcupine would not leave the scene- remember the rule of the bush ”whatever you do, don’t run, as only the food runs”. Well this happened here and the leopard eventually walked to a pool drank some water and continued his wanderings, while the porcupine I think re-gathered some of his wits!
I have never seen such an excited group of people as ours in the aftermath of the sighting. I needed a gin and tonic just to calm the nerves! What a pleasure to be able to witness such interaction.