African leopard camera trapped in Tsavo East NP, Kenya

Thursday, May 17, 2012posted by Bruce 9:57 PM

‘A Needle in a Haystack’: A Sony S600 catches a leopard eating prey

Sometimes, things happen that are unexplainable and spooky. That goes for the following story. I have just returned from Africa and while on safari, was able to slip two camera traps in the bush (a Sony S600 and W7) at several locations. But the weirdest setup was in Tsavo East National Park in Southern Kenya not far from the infamous ‘Man-eaters of Tsavo’ site.

To get a perspective of how huge this place really is (Tsavo – East and West) is the largest national park in the world at more than 43,000 square kilometers (the size of Wales, Israel and New Jersey). Finding a leopard is like finding the proverbial ‘needle in a haystack’.

Leopard’s prey: A wild cat and a black-backed jackal

One morning as my companion, driver and guide Patrick Mjoroge and I were out on a game drive (as they are known), he spotted two leopard kills hanging in a tree by the side of the road. We stopped and saw a wild cat wedged on top of a jackal in the branches, and both ‘dead as door nails’.

Sony S600/1010/SSII camera trap on the ground at the leopard tree

The big cat for a later meal stashed these two small predators and so we waited for a while but in vain. Then it dawned on me: why not just throw my S600/SSII/1010 on the ground in a hollow piece of dead wood pointed up at the big tree. It was worth a shot! Later that day, we drove by several times but the leopard was no-where to be seen.

A full-size image of the African leopard in a tree eating its prey

The carrion was still there so I decided to let it soak overnight until the next morning thinking the carnivore might come at night to eat its prize. I took a few shots of the hanging dead and the set-up, and we departed quickly not wanting to hang around obviously. The leopard on the ground is extremely fast and I was not sure how close it might be waiting, and we might just turn into dinner.

Bright and early the next morning, we drove directly to the tree and found the two kills gone. A small tree branch had fallen right in front of the cam and I thought I had missed the cat for sure. As I scanned through the images, I could see nothing but a large leg in several frames. A giraffe had almost stepped on the cam before we arrived and I could see its head up close to where the kills had been. I was a bit disappointed.

Giraffe at the leopard’s tree

Then, I decided to scroll through again and noticed one frame was darker just before the giraffe shots. I zoomed in and almost jumped out of the truck. Low and behold, I saw spots in the crotch of the tree and then saw the leopard’s head looking down towards the cam with the jackal in its mouth. The big cat had visited late in the afternoon and the background sky was nice and blue. I was speechless for a few moments until I could talk again.

Giraffe very close to the S600

I began jumping up and down in the back until Patrick told me to calm down. I showed him the shot and we both began celebrating this remarkable camera trap event. It definitely was worth several rounds of drinks or ‘sundowners’ as they are known in Africa later at the bar in the tented-camp.

Leopard close-up eating the jackal

Weird is an under-statement and the ‘spirits of the wild’ had answered my wishes. I have cropped and enhanced the leopard shot so it can be seen quite clearly. Remarkable is all I can say and the little S600 did a herculean job of catching a ghost!

More set-ups to follow: The S600 also traps hyena, baboon, impala, waterbuck, and the W7 catches elephant plus a bushbaby in a hotel bar getting the largest and one of the smallest mammals found in Africa. It was an amazing trip to the ‘Dark Continent’ as it was known in the old days, and hope everyone enjoys these camera trap photographs.

 



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