Black Leopard of Laikipia, Kenya
The first ORYX Black Leopard Safari was a resounding success, surpassing all hopes and expectations. On our first day, after a short flight from Nairobi, we landed in the beautiful Loisaba Conservancy, where a scenic drive to the lodge awaited us. Along the way, we were delighted to catch a glimpse of the highly endangered Grevy’s Zebra roaming amidst the parched landscape.
Upon arrival at Laikipia Wilderness Camp, we were greeted with a warm welcome by the staff. The lodge, perched atop a rocky outcropping, offers a breathtaking vantage point into the heart of the black leopard’s territory.
Our first game drive was filled with excitement and anticipation as we set out in search of the elusive black leopard. We were hopeful, as she had been spotted in the area the night before, and in recent months, has started being seen during daylight hours. We spent the entire afternoon exploring her territory, scanning the dry landscape for any sign of her distinctive black body, which stood out clearly from far distances.
As darkness descended, we received the call we had been waiting for. Our tracker had spotted her across the river! The whole vehicle tensed with excitement as we rushed to the riverbank, cameras at the ready. The moment was electric as we spotted a dark shadow moving among the rocks in the dry riverbed. The whole car quietly cheered in excitement for this monumental moment. A lifetime dream was achieved.
We momentarily lost visual of her in the riverbed, but moments, she appeared on the exact game trail where our vehicle was parked and walked right up within a meter of us. She gave us all a quick, piercing glance before continuing on her way. This was our guests’ first-ever encounter with a black leopard, and the moment was truly unforgettable.
We spent the next hour following her, capturing her as she moved effortlessly through the dark wilderness. With another vehicle in the area, we were able to capture some stunning shots with the perfect side lighting.
Throughout the rest of the week, we were treated to several more sightings of the black leopard, both in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Each encounter was special in its own way, offering a glimpse into her behavior and lifestyle. Photographing this elusive animal in limited light was a technical challenge, but over the course of the week, we had the opportunity to capture her in a variety of situations and experiment with different lighting techniques with the spotlight.
One of our most memorable moments came when we watched her hunt a scrub hare. She brought the kill into a Boscia tree and we were able to watch her pluck its fur at eye level. Unfortunately for her, a male in the area who regularly follows her, appeared out of nowhere and swiftly jumped into the tree and stole her kill. The two leopards snarled loudly, but the altercation was brief. The male is much larger, and she doesn’t stand a chance to defend her kill against him without risk of serious injury.
On two separate occasions during our trip, we were lucky enough to see the 3 resident leopards together – the black leopard, her spotted mother and a spotted territorial male. The three of them have unusually frequent interactions for leopards. Unfortunately, the black leopard is the smallest of the three and often falls victim to theft from her larger companions.
In addition to our encounters with the black leopard, we were also treated to two game drives spent with a pack of African Wild Dogs. The pack is about 15 individuals, including several puppies who have recently left the den. On one morning, we found the pack feeding on an impala, their bellies bloated from their meal. In the afternoon, we approached the pack on foot and spent over an hour observing them at ground level. At one point, a leopard was seen at a distance and several of the adult dogs formed a perimeter around the pack, facing outward on the lookout for danger. Amazingly, the alpha male sat closest to us and included us in the ‘inner circle.’ Clearly we were not seen as a threat.
We also had two lion sightings. In one of the sightings, a pair of lionesses stalked and unsuccessfully attempted to hunt an impala. In the other, they were feeding on a young elephant. It’s unknown if the elephant died on its own or was taken down by the lions. Other noteworthy sightings on our trip include the Grevy’s Zebra, Reticulated Giraffe, Bat Eared Fox, Beisa Oryx, Eland, Side Stiped Jackal and several small herds of elephants.
On our final morning on the way to the airport, we did a final loop in the black leopard’s territory. The evening before, we said ‘goodbye’ to this remarkable cat, knowing that the odds of finding her on our early departure to the airport were slim. Remarkably, within 10 minutes of leaving the lodge, our tracker pointed at the rocks in the riverbed, and there she was. We couldn’t believe our eyes and our luck. This was our best morning sighting with her, and we were lucky to see her in golden light. We managed to squeeze in about 30 minutes with her before needing to be on our way to catch our flight.
It was the ultimate send off and conclusion to our trip. Overall, the trip yielded sightings well beyond any’s expectations and offered a unique and unparalleled glimpse into the world of this elusive animal.