A pair of leopards make for a dangerous and powerful couple in Namibia's Etosha National Park.
Leopards are solitary hunters and will ferociously defend their home territory against others of their kind. By two years of age they are fertile and male and female will come together to reproduce, the female is in heat for about one week every six weeks. A female leopard on heat attracts males by the smell of her urine. A male and female may stay together for several days, even sharing food, during which time they mate repeatedly before going their separate ways.
The mating itself appears like with other big cats first more a fight than a close moment; the female often giving the male a good smack with her pranks afterwards, followed by smooching and tender head rubbing to make up again.
The female gestates for about 3.5 month before giving birth to 2 to 4 cubs in a cave or hollowed tree, the male does not take part in the raising of the litter at all. The leopard cubs will stay with the mother for nearly two years, during which she teaches them stealth and primarerly how to hunt. She actually uses the white part on the end of the back of her tail (nicely visible in this image) for communicating with her young during hunting in high grass.
You need a lot of luck to see a leopard in the wild, maybe apart from some specialized leopard game farms in South Africa. I was fortunate enough not only too photograph these marvellous big cats on many occassions but actually photograph a pair during their seven days of love. They stayed in the same densly bushed area close to a waterhole far up North from the Namutoni camp, so I was able to revisit them for a couple of days.
Due to special permits received by the Namibian Wildlife Conservation I was able to drive in Etosha during night. While the dark of the night was an exiting time in the bush and giving me the opportunity to observe elusive nocturnal animals the best I really got out of it was that I could stay with animals until the very last rays of sun. If you browse thru my Etosha images you will see a number of shots right at sunrise or sunset where I had the peace without other overexited tourists around to catch animals softly bathed in magical light.
This pair looked very young, they must have been in their prime years. The particular area I observed them in had very dense bush and I think the leopards came out onto the typical calcreted gravel path of Etosha National Park get an open view, maybe not unlike us humans sitting down to contemplate with a partner on a veranda overlooking the landscape below. In any case I did find them for some days lounging around sunset just on the roadside - very lucky for me.
Many wildlife photographers probably would have shoot a scene like this with a 600mm telephoto lens to closely frame the leopards. I resisted that urge because I do not think as a wildlife photographer you need to proof how close you were to an animal, these type of shots will turn out better with captive animals anyhow. I did however wanted to show that this is the real thing - a wild shot. It was at the end of the dry season, many bushes lost their leaves and this made for a perfect not too noisy dark grey backdrop. I could have not asked for a better reflector than the white calcrete ground, which lightend up the leopards from below like a pre-planned stage show. The pair posed like celebrities and to round it off just a hint of sun makes the left side of the head of the standing leopard glow every so slightly.