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Discovering the Enigmatic Black Leopard

In the heart of Kenya’s wilderness, amidst the breathtaking landscapes of Laikipia, lies a rare and elusive creature—the black leopard. Joining three adventurous photographers, I, ORYX Photo Tour Leader Daniel Bailey, embarked on a journey to capture the essence of this magnificent feline during our Kenya Black Leopard Photo Tour.

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A Journey of Discovery Begins

Our adventure began in Nairobi, Kenya’s bustling capital, where we spent a night preparing for the journey ahead. Despite recent heavy rainstorms and devastating flooding, we were undeterred in our quest to explore the remote region of Laikipia in search of one of the world’s rarest big cats—the black leopard. While the floods had caused extensive damage and loss of life, our determination to witness this enigma of nature remained steadfast.

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The Quest for the Black Leopard

The black leopard, also known as “Giza Mrembo” or “the beautiful darkness,” is a rare melanistic leopard that calls Laikipia Wilderness home. Born to a regular spotted leopard, she grew up in the area and has become habituated to safari vehicles, offering photographers from around the globe enchanting experiences of viewing and photographing her. Though not tame, she graciously allows privileged individuals into her world, if only for a fleeting moment.

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Exploring Laikipia Wilderness

Our base for this extraordinary adventure was an authentic, classic safari camp nestled amidst the stunning landscapes of Laikipia. From May 8th to May 15th, 2024, we embarked on the ORYX KenyaBlack Leopard Photo Safari, with eight days and seven nights to explore the area in search of the elusive black leopardess and other wildlife that calls this region home.

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Unforgettable Encounters

Throughout our journey, we were blessed with incredible sightings of the black leopardess. We saw her every day! A total of eight out of the twelve game drives, witnessing her in various activities and different times of the day and night. From watching her catch prey to patrolling her territory, every moment spent in her presence was magical.

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We saw her on numerous occasions and at different times of the day and night, experiencing her in both morning and evening light. On one memorable night drive, we witnessed her catch a vulture guinea fowl and a scrub hare, hoisting her prey into a large Boscia tree with remarkable agility.

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During one morning drive, we had the privilege of watching her patrol her territory for over two hours, traversing roads, game trails, and lush green grasslands adorned with a variety of wildflowers. The recent rains had transformed the landscape from a series of droughts into a lush green oasis bursting with life. In the morning light, we observed her stalking Gunther’s dik-diks, witnessing a successful kill and her subsequent journey into a thicket to savour her meal.

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In the evening light, she encountered an enormous puff adder, displaying caution and respect for the dangerous serpent. Although we hoped to photograph the interaction, we were relieved when she decided to keep her distance. Her mesmerizing eyes take on a green glow during the daylight hours, reflecting the green landscape around her. She provided some of the most beautiful photographic moments for my ORYX guests and I. We captured beautiful environmental and close portraits of this elusive feline. She is a real beauty! Time stands still when you’re in her presence. She doesn’t seem real, potentially a mirage, and you have to pinch yourself,  to ensure that you’re not dreaming and that she really is only a few feet in front of your lens.

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One particularly memorable encounter was witnessing her catch a Gunther’s dik-dik and hoist it into a large Boscia tree. We marveled at her hunting prowess and observed her navigate the shadows of the lush green grasslands transformed by recent rains.

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On our final morning, we raced to locate her, spending precious moments with her as she patrolled her territory. She graciously gave us multiple walk-bys, even sneaking underneath our safari vehicle, between our tires. It was a farewell filled with incredible photographic opportunities, and I believe our week produced some of the finest images of her in a long time.

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Throughout the week, the weather conditions were perfect, with warm sunshine illuminating the green grasslands and offering glimpses into her secretive world. She made five hunts and successful kills while we were with her, two of which happened in front of us during the day.

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Capturing Moments of Beauty

As the golden light of dawn bathed the landscape, we were treated to unforgettable photographic opportunities. Watching Giza Mrembo walk towards our safari vehicle with a freshly caught prey draped in her jaws was a sight to behold. She emerged from a thicket with a freshly caught dik-dik kill, providing us with unique photographic opportunities.

She walked past our safari vehicle multiple times, almost showing off her hunting prowess, as she climbed into a tree, with piercing golden eyes peering, through the foliage and dappled light, and as she descended the tree her coat illuminated by the golden light, revealing the rosettes of spots beneath her velvet black coat.

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A Week of Rewards

Our efforts were richly rewarded as we captured some of the finest images of Giza Mrembo during our time in Laikipia. The weather conditions were perfect, with warm sunshine illuminating the green grasslands and offering glimpses into her secretive world.

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Beyond the Black Leopard

While the black leopardess was the star of the show, we also encountered other fascinating wildlife, including reticulated giraffes, Grevy’s zebras, elephant herds, bat-eared foxes, a very relaxed striped hyena and a pride of lions lounging in golden light. The diverse birdlife, with species like the Vulturine guineafowl, Red-cowled widowbird, and the eastern chanting goshawk, added to the richness of our experience.

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A Gamble Worth Taking

Traveling to Kenya in search of one cat was a gamble, but one that paid off in ways we could never have imagined. From the United States and Belgium, my guests took the risk, and they were richly rewarded with unparalleled beauty and unforgettable wildlife sightings, especially of the legendary Giza Mrembo, the black leopardess of Laikipia.

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A Journey to Remember

As our Kenya Black Leopard Photo Tour came to an end, we departed with hearts full of gratitude and memory cards filled with extraordinary images. Our encounter with Giza Mrembo and the abundant wildlife of Laikipia will forever be etched in our minds—a testament to the untamed beauty of Kenya’s Laikipia wilderness.

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Daniel Bailey, ORYX Photo Tour Leader

 

Daniel Bailey is a Photo Tour Leader for ORYX private and scheduled departures. To view Daniel’s small group photo tours, click here.

 

To have Daniel join you on your tailor-made tour as your private Photo Tour Leader, please email [email protected]

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