A big part of wildlife photography is immersing oneself in the world you are capturing. As a young photographer starting out, Alice Péretié had the opportunity to do just that when she spent time with the Africat Foundation in Namibia. Here, she tells the story of her intimate encounters with one of the most elusive species of big cats.
By Alice Péretié
Leopards: Cunning, grace and stealth. Seductive, yet deadly.
This picture reflects one of my most treasured memories: my first encounter with the most graceful of hunters. Bwana, a 17 month-old male leopard, was sitting on a nearby patch of grass, staring intently at us. The setting was perfect: the sun was a blood red orb, slowly descending toward the horizon: we were at the peak of the golden hour with a chorus of crickets already announcing nightfall.
Bwana’s little game of seduction worked wonders on me, and I sat there, transfixed, as my eyes locked with his beautiful grey gaze. The African sunset’s magic was operating and I could feel my heart pounding, desperate to prolong the moment.
We followed him as he lazily padded towards an old tree trunk before slumping down next to it. He proceeded to thoroughly groom himself, deliberately ignoring us. I didn’t mind – I was already in love. I was absorbed in the scene unfurling in front of me, barely aware of my camera frantically clicking at him.
This encounter took place as I was visiting the Africat Foundation, located in the Okonjima Game reserve, Namibia. Africat is an NGO focusing on leopard, cheetah and wild dog rehabilitation and sustention. Their work is anchored around three themes: human-wildlife migration conflict, environmental support and carnivore conservation.
I was amazed by their methods such as cheetah tracking on foot, by their passion, and by their dedication. Not only does it inspire me, but I find it reflects Namibia perfectly in terms of the local public perception of the territory’s fauna and flora. The country is a paradise for wildlife, boasting 0% poaching rates, which makes it my top destination in Africa. It was the first country to integrate wildlife conservation and preservation in its constitution, making it a destination of choice for any wildlife lover.
Ever since this visit, I have kept a special place in my heart for leopards. I was – and still am – filled with gratitude to have been able to photograph and observe Bwana for over an hour. We were lucky to have seen him, and he behaved as the perfect subject. I am, of course, aware of the fact that he was completely nonchalant about our presence. Nonetheless, I prefer interpreting this chance as a tacit agreement between he and I: he would pose, and I would take care of the rest.
This story remains so important to me because meeting Bwana sparked and fuelled my desire to get involved in conservation. For me, photography is a way to promote the field, by capturing the animals’ beauty in time and space. Wildlife photography can deliver powerful – explicit or subliminal – messages, and this is with any subject. Capturing the intensity of a leopard’s gaze for example is invaluable in captivating the audience’s attention.
We must nourish the underlying human desire that is to seek and treasure beauty, and photography is a strong tool to do so. More and more, I aspire to use it as a means of communication to raise awareness for this critical and pressing work.
You can see more of Alice Péretié’s beautiful photography on her Instagram page: @Alice_Péretié.
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