by Nisha Purushothaman
February 17, 2023
As far back as I can remember, I've always been interested in photography. In November of 2009, I went on a journey to Kenya's Masai Mara, and it altered the course of my life in every way. I must admit, The Mara has captured my heart. I've made 36 trips since 2009, so much so that it seems like my second home.
Every animal is unique, distinct, and stunning. When it comes to the Mara, I've always been fascinated by big cats, particularly their emotional bonding and expressiveness when they're with their cubs. Whether it's a lion, a leopard, or a cheetah.
I want to do this as a three-part series, describing my experiences with leopards, cheetahs, and lions.
In the Mara, leopards have earned the reputation of being the most elusive of all big cats. However, there are several notable outliers. Particularly a couple of female leopards in the Mara that are famous for their boldness and unique behaviour. Seeing a leopard with a cub and being able to spend time with them was something I'd always wanted to do. That wish finally came true, although it took a very long time. But when it actually happened, it was like a new chapter in the novel for me.
It all started with a leopard named Bahati and three cubs on a rough terrain near the Mara River. I spent 20 days in the Mara in April 2015. We knew Bahati was nursing when we saw her. We tried to track her for a week and eventually witnessed her carrying one cub from a large rock, then crossing the river, and keeping the cub in a little cave. When you see the cave's entrance, you would not believe that a fully grown leopard could enter via such a little opening. One must see it to believe it. The biggest surprise came the next morning. When we visited the location, she was playing with three little cubs. We spent 2-3 hours watching them... it was one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had. It was amazing to watch the little leopard cubs for the first time. She managed to save two and lost one after a month.
I spent five and a half months in Mara in 2021. My primary attention was on two leopards.
One was called Lorian, and the other Lululka. There is also a link between the two. Luluka is
a Loarian offspring. Both of these leopards had cubs at the time.
In the month of November 2021, when I reached the Mara, Lulu's cub was around two months old. They were sighted quite often. Lulu was spotted with a kill on a daily basis. Many of my most cherished memories and frames are of times I spent with them.
Lulu's ability to rear up on her hind legs like a meerkat is one of the things that sets her apart from other cats. I count myself among the fortunate few who have had the pleasure of seeing this breathtaking event on several occasions.
Lulu and her cub gifted me with some very unforgettable, pleasant experiences. After killing a warthog, she had a long trip to get to where the cub was hiding. The cubs have a high IQ. While the mother is off hunting, she will leave her cubs in a safe location and when she returns, she will call for them. They make a sound, and out of nowhere the cub will arrive; the following few minutes are filled with affection and the cub's unique manner of showing it. The youngster spent the day hidden in a confined space that was surrounded by water. Lulu waded across the chasm, growled a few times, and stood in the water. In the span of a few minutes, this little one emerged from the savanna, leaped, and hugged its mother many times; what made this event particularly remarkable was that it took place near a body of water, the reflection of which was clearly visible to onlookers. Very moving!
Then, another time, after killing a warthog, Lulu went to get the cub, and I was there to see a once-in-a-lifetime event. I saw it running from the back towards Lulu. I thought she would grab Lulu’s neck, but to my surprise, she jumped on top of Luluka and looked into the camera. I took 12 shots from the beginning to the end, which I still find unbelievable!
Some people suspected that Loarian had died because she hadn't been seen for a while, but my friends and guides in the Mara were quite certain that she was OK. Therefore, we made it a point to scout her territory at least every other day . On November 28th, after much hard work, we were the first to find Lorain and her youngster in a den.
On one of those days, we saw her go up and down a small tree more than 12 times. She kept a carcass on top and kept coming up and down to eat small pieces. When the cub was around 2 months old, every time she went, on a hunt she would put this little one in a cavity of a tree. It was so sweet to see her cub peeking out of the hole.
I saw Bahati again this year, with the baby she just had. Since she is almost 12 years old, I think this will probably be her last one. Her territory is very big and very bushy, so if she wants to hide, it will be hard to find her. It’s important to be patient while looking at for her in her area. The guide’s understanding of the territory is important. This time we spend a lot of time looking for them, and once we found them, spend a couple of hours with them. It helped us to capture some beautiful, tender moments...
It's amazing to be a mother, whether you're a person or an animal...In wildlife photography, the more time you spend with them in the wild, the more you'll learn about how they behave. This is the most important thing a photographer needs to know to predict the moments.
When it comes to practical side photography and gear, a larger aperture is always useful since it allows for more light, particularly if you want shallow depth of field and creamy backgrounds. FPS (frames per second) is also important since cubs are super active, and FPS aids in obtaining more frames. A good ISO performance is another key. At the same time, I believe in the power of visualization and luck. Believe it or not, I used to dream about most of my favorite frames before seeing them in real.
Bio: An influencer for the upcoming generation, an avid traveler, and a leading conservation photographer, she firmly believes that we need more awareness about the planet and should travel and see the already fragile ecosystem firsthand and contribute their part in conserving the earth’s resources. She loves to be defined as a conservationist photographer. She is a co-founder of Mara Trails, a unique bush camp in Masai Mara, Kenya.
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