Grace on Granite

As a fine art wildlife photographer I have a very clear outline of what subjects I like to photograph and in what environment I feel best compliments and befits their very essence.

Over the years Monique and I have been very lucky with lions and cheetah and as such I have a collection of Fine Art works of these cats that I feel are strong.

The same cannot be said for leopards, a cat that I believe trumps all others for beauty.

Leopards are often elusive and usually found in habitats that are not conducive to getting clean and unobstructed images of them. As such, when renowned Wildlife Photographic guide, Grant Atkinson, suggested we look into the Kogatende area in northern Serengeti to try to photograph the leopards on Kopjes, where they are routinely seen, we jumped at the opportunity. Added to this, due to the terrible affliction of the Covid virus the numbers of tourists in the area would be low and this could likely give us a good chance at an uncrowded sighting.

Basing ourselves at the spectacular Nomad Tanzania’s Lamai Serengeti Camp which is set high up in a magnificent set of granite boulders, we hoped we would have a chance to achieve this image which to up to now had eluded me.

Our guide for the trip was Lazarus, who with eight years’ experience in the area was familiar with every nook and cranny of the dozens of kopjes that were close by.

I don’t know how many times I must have asked him if he had ever seen a leopard sitting on this or that rock, each a photographic fantasy in my mind.

On our very first day we saw four leopards, all together feeding on something in a bushy ravine, the sort of habitat I was familiar with. Nearby there was a beautiful fig tree perched atop a granite boulder, no need to guess what I was hoping for.

The following morning we were there again. The young female with her two cubs was there, no male. They were playing tantalizingly close to the fig and rock but no joy.

That evening we were back again. The mom was asleep in the grass but the cubs had caught a hyrax and were fighting over it with the young male clearly calling the shots.

Suddenly with evening light caressing the rock the young leopard darts into a hollowed out section of the trunk of the tree. Magical and beautiful but not quite the uncluttered and clean feel of what I am after.

Poor Lazarus, he has delivered a leopard in a tree growing out of a granite rock in evening light and his punter is still not happy, tough crowd.

Having been a guide for 25 years I knew exactly what he was thinking!

On our final morning, we leave our camp, winding down the hillside of the kopje upon which the camp is built to the sound of lions calling. We quickly track them down. Perched atop of a magnificent outcrop of granite is a beautiful male lion. We try get closer just as he recedes into the shade of a distracting euphorbia bush that all but kills the photo, aargh, I’m gutted!

We wait for half an hour in vain, time is running out and I suggest we take one more shot at the leopards, as that’s my primary objective.

Another vehicle radios in to say they have a leopard but it is in the bushes, no good.

One last roll of the dice, we head to the fig and rock. As we approach, we see the leopards, in the grass again. We wait and wait and wait. Lazarus quite rightly does not want to disturb them. Suddenly the young female spots something on the rock, she is off in a slinky blur.

Panicking and almost incoherent I ask Lazarus to move to the other side of the rock. He does so with experienced caution, not wanting to spook the magnificent rosette adorned cat that is looking at us. We get there, she moves under some wood in deep shadow and stares at us, expletives rain down like an Indian monsoon.

Suddenly she shifts her gaze to the beautiful dome shaped half-moon of granite five meters away where huge ornately coloured rock Agamas are scurrying around engaged in a courtship battle.  It’s too much for her and her youthful exuberance kicks in. In a flash she is after them.

Unexpectedly she is draped magnificently atop the sculptured rock like a golden cape and we are in the perfect position looking directly at her. It’s all come together, I fire like crazy and pray my settings are good.

I check the back of my camera and see an image that is so artistically pleasing and perfect that it looks as though it is staged with a tame leopard. I am elated.

Thank you Lazarus, thank you Leopard, truly Grace on Granite.    

Copyrighted by Chris Fallows @2020