A LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA
The honorable Prime Minister on India
Dr. Manmohan Singh
7, Race Course Road, New Delhi
I am down at Londolozi Game Reserve in South
Africa on a cold morning. A male leopard sits on top of a termite
mound grooming himself. The red orb of the rising sun is like a halo
behind the magnificent male leopard.
Three game drive vehicles full of exited
photographers take pictures of the prince. Nikons and Canons fire
continuously, capturing the magnificent scene. The game drive
vehicles have a ranger and a tracker who escort the 16 privileged
The rangers of two other game drive vehicles have
booked their place on standby. When one ranger is satisfied with his
sighting he will leave the scene and another will replace him. No
more than 3 vehicles will follow the leopard at any one time.
As I look through my camera, I notice a slight
tear on the leopards left ear. Perhaps he was in a fight when
he received the wound. I assure my guests that it is not serious and
he will recover completely. Cleverly the leopard licks his paw and
then pulls the paw across the wound. His saliva has antiseptic
properties and in this way he self-heals himself.
Suddenly he gets up and strides off the mound and
the game drives follow. The rangers job will be to get
the guests the best possible photos without changing the behaviour
of the leopard.
One vehicle is silent, it is electric, emitting
no noise or poisonous gases.
Another vehicle has just two guests who are professional
photographers. The adapted landrover is fitted with swivel chairs so they can
turn quickly. A built in tripod steadies the 500mm lens mounted on
the Nikon Cameras.
More than a million rands worth of camera
equipment is on the vehicles and of the 16 guests, 13 have stills
cameras, two have movie cameras and one child has no camera at all.
The male leopard sprays marking fluid on
prominent trees. The cameramen request a backlight position so the
marking fluid shines in the sun as it is sprayed.
Suddenly the leopard freezes and crouches, eyes
focused on a small herd of nyala feeding 60 metres in front of him.
The rangers request the guests to remain silent. This they do, but
for the clicking of the motor drives, as a hundred images
record the predator staring at the potential prey.
A sharp bark, a flash of a white tail and the
nyala are gone. The leopard is undeterred and moves on.
As he alights another termite mound a family of
warthog explode from their burrow. The leopard attacks but misses by
millimetres. The professional photographers capture the leopard the
warthog and the dust backlit all in one frame, its an award winning
As the leopard moves down the drainage line, the
bush thickens. Fallen trees, pushed down by elephant, block the way
for the jeeps as the leopard glides forwards.
The photographic jeep gets a puncture, its a
cruel stroke of luck, they are out of the sighting.
Thankful for the opportunity, one standby vehicle
moves in. My vehicle hooks on a fallen log, I can't go forwards, I
can't go backwards. Fortunately another jeep pushes me off the log, I
am back in the sighting.
Suddenly out of the bush appears two male lions.
They are heading for the male leopard intent on killing him if they
can. With the grace of an Olympic Athlete, the leopard jumps to
safety into an ebony tree and climbs into the high branches.
One alert and organized photographer, has captured
the leopard's leap perfectly. His ranger has positioned him precisely
for the best photograph he has ever taken.
One male lion tries to climb after the leopard
but falls heavily to the ground. A lady guest rolling a video camera,
captures the fall and the thud as it hits the ground. She is
While the leopard rests high in an ebony tree,
two game drives take a break from the sighting.
The third game drive decides to follow the male
lions who amble off and begin roaring. One guest captures the steam
as it came out of the roaring male lion's mouth, it is an unusual
Two of the jeeps leave the sighting while the
leopard rests at the top of the ebony tree. As coffee and rusks are
served, the guests fire questions at me in rapid fire. If a lion and
a tiger were to fight, who will win? How does the leopard hunting
style differ from the tiger? How do you save the last of the wild
tigers in Asia. The verbal gymnastics is electrifying. These are
passionate people very knowledgeable and well informed.
One group of guests are Indian and they claim it
is no longer possible to see a wild tiger or leopard in India. For
this experience they must come to South Africa, to Londolozi and
The guests proudly show each other their
pictures. E-mail addresses are exchanged as they promise to send
each other their best pictures. New friendships are made.
The radios goes, the male leopard is down the
tree. The jeeps immediately rejoin the sighting. The ranger and
tracker have fixed the puncture on the photographic jeep, the
professional photographers are back in the sighting.
Sadly one group are catching plane out that
morning so they leave the sighting and the second standby takes
their place. This brings the total number of guests who have now
seen the male leopard to 36. The second standby jeep has no less
than 4, state of the art, professional cameras on board.
Unexpectedly the male leopard stops in a clearing
and in full view of 3 game drives, gives his rasping territorial
communication call. Most of the guests have never heard a leopard
call and even the rangers and trackers are stunned into silence. It
is a magical defining moment.
It now becomes clear to us that the
leopard is heading for a den site where two of his cubs are hidden.
As he approaches the den site, he makes a strange chuffing sound.
(Leopards blow through their nostrils, it's called chuffing).
Having worked with tigers, I am very familiar
with the chuffing sound. Few people have heard leopards chuffing. It's a
greeting sound rarely used by leopard but often by tigers) Now the
female leopard and mother of the cubs greets the male with a similar
Cameras click as the leopards display "the kiss"
as they touch noses. The mother leopard with a soft chuffing sound
calls the two small cubs from the rocky den to meet their father.
The sound of at least 8 professional cameras
shooting rapid fire is deafening. A male leopard, a female leopard
and two small cubs caught in the same frame, is a rare and unique
Having satisfied himself that the cubs are safe,
the male leopard circles the den three times giving off his
The movie photographers are in their element as
they capture the haunting rasping sound of the male leopard.
The male leopard leaves the scene, moves into
heavy reeds and disappears out of sight. The show is over.
I would later calculate that 36 guests enjoyed
the sighting and between 1000 and 1500 images of that leopard was
shot that morning.
In a symbiotic relationship, Londolozi has
provided the leopards with a safe place to live out their daily lives.
The leopards in return have provided guests with images and memories
that would last for the rest of their lives. Each image would become
an advertisement for leopards and leopard conservation across the
Mr. Prime Minister, if you genuinely want to save
the magnificent tiger, then create parks where guests from all over
the world can interact with your tigers the way they interact with
leopards at Londolozi.
To ban tourists from your parks is completely
and utterly the wrong way to go. To blame your inability to conserve
the tiger on tourists is fraudulent to say the least.
I urge you to reconsider your decision and I
issue you an invitation to visit Londolozi Game Reserve and Tiger
Canyons in South Africa and see for yourself tourism and wild
animals working in a harmonious, symbiotic relationship to the
benefit of all.
After the success of our first competition I take
pleasure in announcing our second competition.
You are invited to send 3 pictures of a leopard
and 3 pictures of a tiger.
Each picture will be awarded a number out of 10
by the two Judges.
After totaling up the total number of points, the
person with the highest number is the winner.
The two Judges are Marsel van Oosten and
DaniŽlla Sibbing. Regular suppliers of pictures to National
Geographic they are well respected internationally. Their decision
shall be final.
The prize will be a Big Cat
Safari for 2 people (3 nights at Londolozi and 3 nights at Tiger
Canyons). Details will be on the website.
A number of specials on Big Cat Safaris will be
offered during 2013. Please contact Sunette for details or check out
the web site.
Entries close for the photographic competition on
the 30th September 2013.
1) You have to enter only 6 pictures: 3x tiger pictures and 3x
2) Each picture score points out of 10 - winner will be the one with
the highest number out of 60. One bad picture will give you a bad
3) Pictures can be taken anywhere in the world
4) Picture size: not more than 500KB
Do NOT send more than 3 tiger pictures
Do NOT send more than 3 leopard pictures
Do NOT send only tiger or only leopard pictures
Do NOT send more than 500KB per picture
You will be disqualified!
Tread lightly on the earth.