Jonty Bozas | Shadows and Dust
When I started my career as a guide many years ago, there was always one animal that had such a reputation for being so elusive and so secretive that it was almost a myth to me. An animal with such exquisite markings and possessing such immense strength that it was like a fabled creature.
Growing up, our family had often visited some of the national parks close to where I lived but had never even come close to seeing a leopard. So when I started my career guiding, I was so excited that I finally would be in the position to potentially see leopards in the wild. And boy have I been lucky! In a career that has seen me working in a variety of different locations in South Africa, at some of the best lodges our beautiful country has to offer, I have certainly been spoilt with leopard sightings.
I concluded my guide training at &Beyond Ngala Safari Lodge in the Timbavati - after completing the Inkwazi ranger training at Phinda private game reserve. Therefore, &Beyond Ngala is and always will be a very special place to me as this is where - with the help of my mentors, I honed the skills that would lead me through my career. It was there that I saw my first leopard and boy, was it breathtaking! The beauty, grace and power oozing from this animal that had been for so many years a myth to me, now just walking along in the early evening on a scenting patrol, not paying any attention to us in the slightest and going about its business undisturbed by us as spectators. I was hooked for life, I still could not actually believe that this was my job!!
In the next few years, I moved around as a guide and spent time on reserves that did not have such frequent sightings compared to reserves where multiple leopards would be seen daily. Still, each and every time I see one of these cats, I am blown away and get the same feelings that I got that afternoon way back at Ngala Lodge. And so the day that I took this photograph, I had been following tracks of a male leopard at Mala Mala Game Reserve for the whole afternoon. I was thoroughly enjoying the challenge of reading the signs on the ground left by the mythical creature and eventually with the last rays of the sun disappearing, alarming monkeys were the final clue I needed to find this male leopard.
He was lying up on a termite mound when we found him, and shortly after dark he got up and started a patrol, scent marking as he went. I called in the sighting on the radio and so two other safari vehicles joined us to follow the patrolling leopard. At one point I had looped around to get a view of him walking towards us. The headlights of the vehicle trailing him and the spotlight shining from the side threw long shadows over him and we could see the dust from the pads of his feet each time they touched down on the dry winter earth. And it was at this moment that I was reminded of the fact that for 20 years this animal had been a myth to me. An animal that used the night and the shadows to evade detection and remain concealed and shrouded in mystery. And yet here we were, following him on his nightly patrol of his territory.
In that moment, it was so fitting to me and touched a spot deep within me of how lucky I am to do this as my job and to share our wild places with guests from all over the world. And from time to time, spend time with the prince of cats out of the shadows and into the light.
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