“You’re going to be excited about the pictures today,” Kate said to me as I was packing my backpack with spare sets of batteries, extra memory cards, my camera, my computer, two GPS units, water, hat, etc. “Seriously, you’re going to get some leopards today. I can feel it,” she added.
Sure enough, Kate was right. As we approached the first of five sites to collect the memory cards and check the batteries, I stumbled when I nearly stepped on fresh leopard tracks. They led straight through the camera trap. I stayed silent, fearful of jinxing it.
We have a clear image of both flanks, easy to identify. Exactly the way it’s supposed to go.
I felt relieved. It would have been embarrassing spending all summer writing this blog and never capturing a leopard. Leopards are elusive enough that I never thought I was guaranteed to photograph one.
We continued. To be honest, checking cameras is kind of tedious. We do it in the middle of the day when we’re least likely to disturb animals posing for the cameras, so it’s hot. It may be winter here but it’s still a desert and when the sun’s out, it’s brutal. We trudge through the bush to the cameras, legs scratched from the thorns, doing our best to follow subtle game trails without twisting our ankles on all the loose rocks. Once we get to the camera site, we spend two minutes checking the cameras and then it’s back to trudging through the brush again. Worst of all, it takes so long that we’re always late for lunch.
When we reached the last of the cameras, I knelt down to change the memory card and caught myself. Right below my knee was the faint shape of a carnivore print: a big pad surrounded by four round toes. Had that been there before? I loaded the photos and sure enough, there was the second leopard of the day.
This sighting, however, is poor. It’s pretty blurry, the lighting is bad, and it’s head on, which wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that the only part of the cat that’s in focus is the front right leg. Worse, the leopard walked right in front of the other camera and it never took a picture.
Don’t believe me? See that big rock just a foot behind and to the leopard’s left? That rock marks the midpoint between the two cameras. Now look at this photo below from the opposing camera and notice that same big rock right in the middle.
There’s just no way that the cat should walk from that rock to the opposing camera where I found the paw print without getting a picture from this camera. It failed. It would be one thing if the leopard had walked on the edge of the camera’s range, but this is seriously right in the middle.
So, these cameras are unreliable. That’s one of the reasons we have two cameras at each site. Fortunately, I’m smart enough to be happy with what I’ve got. The photo of the leopard still provides a confirmed “capture event” of this species within our sampling area.