Shooting a leopard in the Masai Mara
Mara Porini camp was the second camp I was going to film for Gamewatchers and based on my experience at the Amboseli Porini Camp I couldn’t wait to see this one. I flew in on a small airplane, while the Maasai Mara stretched out below me and even from this altitude I could see plenty animals roaming the plains.
The tents were set in another stunning location on a slightly elevated position, as always the tents featured more luxury than you would ever expect in the bush, including ensuite facilities. I was told that we would be able to go on a night game safari later in the evening, something you cannot do in the Maasai Mara National Park, but since this is another private conservancy we were allowed to do this. But before that we went out for a short drive in their open 4WD vehicle to observe the wildlife and enjoy sundowners; a generous serving of Gin with tonic, to a glorious sunset on the horizon, while elephants, kudu and gazelles wandered the plains.
The area is famous for its big cats and I would see plenty of lions on our night drive I had been promised and sure enough 10 minutes into our drive were two female lions passing in front of us. I was told that in other areas in the Mara, where crowding is an issue, night safaris had been stopped because the lions had become so used to the vehicles and had noticed the headlights really stunned their prey. Thus they had begun to use the vehicle for hunting by running alongside them, which might be entertaining to tourists but is really not healthy for the cats or their prey for that matter.
I think we saw about 8 lions that night and I was more than happy with my footage but the best was yet to come. During breakfast one of the guides told me that they had spotted a couple of leopards in the conservancy and we should try and locate them. I was terribly excited because leopards are notoriously elusive and to be able to film them would be simply amazing.
We searched for them for about 40 minutes and almost gave up when we received a radio call that one of the cats had returned to its prey, the two of them had deposited in a tree. We approached the leopard carefully as it was wary of us, but did not want to leave its feast of course. The leopard was about 2 metres off the ground, while the small buck lay in front of it, over the branches of a tree. I got some really great shots but I wanted to get even closer without any shaking of the camera and decided I would put the tripod slowly outside of the vehicle to film. I managed to do this, but there was still quite a bit of foliage in my shot, so I decided to slowly move the tripod over and that’s when the cat decided to run down the tree and take off, unfortunately I had not managed to fully set up and thus missed the perfect National Geographic shot, that of a leopard running straight down the trunk of a tree. But hey I had plenty of good footage and felt good about myself and as the local guide pointed out, it would have been impossible to do this kind of undisturbed filming outside the conservancy because there would have been 20 other vehicles around and the leopard would have taken off a long time ago, in fact that might be the reason they are rarely seen in the crowded parks because they simply avoid them.
I was amazed again how much wildlife there was in the conservancy and after filming that leopard I really did not believe that there would be a way to top the experience at my next destination, The Porini Lion Camp, but I was in for a surprise because what I was going to film there was simply the most stunning footage I would get in Africa to this day.
For more info go to www.porini.com