Sunday 17 May 2015

All in the eyes

The eyes have it, they say.
A picture is worth a thousand words, they say.
Whoever they are, they said it.

On our recent short visit to Singita in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in South Africa, we were fortunate to spend some quality time with an old male leopard called the "Camp Pan Male". He is estimated to be around 16 years old, which is very old for a male leopard (especially considering the amount of other males he's had to run into over the years).

Have a look at this photo.
What does it "speak" to you??
Think about it for a few seconds before reading on.

Nikon D3s  |  Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II  |  f5.0  |  1/500 SS  |  ISO-1100

There's a very compelling story to this image - it was taken at the end of a very emotional sighting of him trying his best to feed on a kill he'd stolen from another leopard. His legs were wobbly, his hips looked cripple, and his teeth were worn down. He couldn't get into the very small tree that the kill was hoisted in. I will make the entire story the subject of a different post, because there's some good video footage that my wife caught of the event that would give you an idea of what went down.

Anyway, here he was lying in the grass after exerting all his energy to grab a bite or two...and as he longingly looked up at the kill he was unable to wrest free from the branch it was snuggled into, he looked forlorn...defeated. I was looking into the eyes of a dying leopard. He knew it. I knew it. 

As of today he is still alive (it's merely a week after we were there), but his condition was pretty poor, and we were probably some of the last people to see this leopard alive...and that makes this image special to me.

Morkel Erasmus


  1. Zoe Mulholland18 May 2015 at 17:07

    Morkel, getting a little teary reading this as Camp Pan is my favourite leopard in that area. There is something about him. He has sired so many successful leopards, he is a true patriarch. I knew his time was coming but your post has made it imminent. Gutted that I won't be able to gaze upon him again. His loss will be felt for a long time when it comes. He was the first leopard I ever photographed. Will FB you my pic of him. Thanks for posting this, I have often thought of him, dreading this kind of news. You are lucky to catch some of his last moments.

    1. Hi Zoe - thanks for your comment, and your kind words.
      It seems he's still pushing on, let's see what updates we get from the Sands.

  2. Claire-M. Lepage19 May 2015 at 01:46

    Morkel, before giving you my feeling about what I saw in his eyes (it's on your FB post), I didn't check whose male it was. Now I know that it's Camp Pan male. It's sad to grow old, to lose the strength, agility, capability that were ours a few years ago. It's sad for us humans as well as it is to see it on a great male leopard like Camp Pan.

    Thank you, Morkel, for sharing this moment with us (me), on a very intimate basis. And, as Zoe said above, you were lucky to catch some of his last moments.

    1. Appreciate your comment, Claire! He's a legend in the Sands that's for sure...

  3. Sorry to read the whole story - it is so sad. I saw in his eyes a desire, interest, willing and I was not much mistaken, but knowing the whole story makes it somehow different... Thanks for sharing..

  4. I see that Tu Tones Male died this week. He was Camp Pan's son

  5. The dying embers in a survivors eyes. Truly touching Morkel! Must be gut wrenching for all of you that have followed this warrior for many years. 16 Years is indeed long for a Leopard staving off threats to his territory! Visiting the Sabi Sands later this year. My thoughts will be on this guy....