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Lions & Other Big Cats Archives

Leopard’s Warning Stare

Male leopard stares at our game drive vehicle Caption: Big male leopard (Panthera pardus) gives us a warning stare, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 50D; Lens: Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM telephoto; Focal length: 400mm; Aperture: f/5.6; Shutter speed: 1/125; ISO: 400

We found this magnificent leopard male while on an afternoon game drive in Mashatu Game Reserve. But we didn’t find him by luck — we were pointed in his direction by two cheetah we’d been watching. The two streamlined cats, as if in unison, suddenly turned and focused intently on some point in the distance, aware of something we couldn’t see. They then moved off quickly in the opposite direction (below).

Cheetah pair on the move

Our safari guide immediately went in search of whatever had caused their agitation and soon enough we sighted the leopard lying relaxed in a shady spot, exactly where the cheetah had been watching.

Although our vehicle was some way off, the leopard initially ignored us before giving us the “keep your distance” stare. He then padded off, briefly passing ahead of us through dappled sunlight (below). The image of course has been manipulated in PhotoShop, but is actually quite close to how I remember the scene.

Leopard side view

Cheetah Standing on Tree Stump

Cheetah standing on tree stump, Mashatu game reserve, Botswana Caption: Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) scans its surroundings from the elevation of a tree stump, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Canon Rebel XSi 12.2MP); Lens: Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM; Focal length: 135mm; Shutter speed: 1/125; Aperture: f/8; ISO: 400; Exposure compensation: +1⅓

Although the cheetah above obliged its human audience by climbing and “posing” atop the stump of a Mashatu tree, the lighting was extremely tricky. It was already late afternoon and we were looking into the bright light of the dipping sun, while the cheetah was in deep shadow cast by the huge tree.

While our eyes can magically adjust to the contrast produced by this sort of lighting, the background brightness will trick your exposure meter, leaving the subject far too dark.

To compensate for this, I overexposed by 1⅓ stops, using the camera’s exposure compensation button.

In the shot below, instead of using exposure compensation, I tried an external flash on the camera to throw additional light on the subject.
Cheetah scanning surroundings from tree stump, Mashatu Game Reserve

Here the shutter speed was 1/200 at an aperture of f7.1 — not much different from the first shot where I’d compensated by +1⅓. I had, however, increased the focal length from 135mm to 165mm, eliminating more of the bright background light that was influencing the meter in the first shot.

Both images were processed in RAW using Canon’s Digital Photo Professional then cropped and resized in Photoshop.

Lioness, Upside Down

Lioness lying upside down, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana Caption: Lioness (Panthera leo), while lying on her back with head on the grass, keeps an eye on us from this unusual position, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 50D; Lens: Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L; Focal length: 400mm; Shutter speed: 1/640; Aperture: f/8; ISO 800

We were watching two lionesses, more than likely sisters, affectionately nuzzling and licking each other (below), when the one rolled on her back briefly, all the while keeping her gaze on us. I find the image quite intriguing because of the direct eye contact from an unexpected angle.

Lions are regarded as the only truly sociable cats, with social licking and head rubbing being common among members of a lion pride. It is assumed this behavior plays a part in reinforcing social bonds, as does the greeting ceremony performed by lions.

According to Richard Despart Estes (The Behavior Guide to African Mammals), “pride members have to go through the greeting ceremony whenever they meet, as a proof of membership in the pride and of peaceful intentions”.

Lionesses nuzzling affectionately, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana Caption: Two lionesses, members of the same pride, affectionately nuzzling and head-rubbing, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana.

Young Male Lion in Morning Light

Young male lion in morning light, Tuli Block, Botswana Caption: Young male lion (Panthera leo) lying on his haunches in early morning light, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 50D; Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM; Focal Length: 400mm; Shutter speed: 1/160; Aperture: f/5.6; ISO: 400.

The above photo was taken in October last year while staying at Rock Camp in Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana’s Tuli Block. The young lion, with his mane starting to show, was still in his mother’s company. Next week I hope to be back in Mashatu, so it’ll be interesting to see how much he’s grown (no guarantees of course that we will see him again).

The photo was taken fairly early in the morning with some backlight, giving the image a monochrome look. I’ve been preparing some of my wildlife images for printing as greeting cards, so decided to play on this and turn the image into black and white with a very faint sepia tinge – below.

Young male lion greeting card

And here’s another greeting card experiment, also in black and white but with the cheetah’s eyes in color:

Cheetah greeting card in black and white

It’s been some time since I added new photos to my Wildlife Pictures Online Gallery, but have now included a gallery of nineteen Jackal Pictures, featuring mainly black-backed jackals but also with a few side-striped jackal photos.

Cheetah with Impala Kill

Cheetah with impala kill Caption: Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) takes a break from feeding on its kill, a female impala, to scan for any approaching scavengers, Mashatu Game Reserve, Tuli Block, Botswana.

Camera: Canon EOS 50D; Lens: Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM; Focal length: 200mm; Shutter speed: 1/1250; Aperture: f/7.1; ISO: 400

Cheetah grooming itself The cheetah, once it had eaten its fill, moved away from the kill to rest in the shade of some nearby shrubs. After stretching and yawning, it began carefully grooming and cleaning itself, very like a domestic cat would do.

In the picture (right), it’s using it’s tongue to lick and clean its foreleg. Note the visible, unsheathed claws.

The cheetah’s claws — used mainly for providing traction during its short, blistering runs and not as weapons of attack — can only be partially retracted.

In contrast to this, other cats which either stalk or pounce on their prey, have claws that retract into sheaths when at rest, ensuring the claws remain sharp and ready for use.

We were interested that the first scavenger to arrive and start feeding on the remains of the kill was a tawny eagle (below), beating the resident jackals and hyenas to this free meal.
Tawny eagle scavenging on impala

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