During a recent 3-day visit to Mashatu Game Reserve, I had the distinct pleasure of being guided by Bashi Patane, a local legend, who knows the Reserve intimately. Thanks to his vast experience and detailed knowledge of Mashatu and its animal residents, Bashi enabled me to spend quality time with, and to photograph, several of his wonderful animal friends.

One of these special creatures is an adult female leopard, whom I believe that Bashi has known and interacted with for 7 or 8 years. He introduced me to her on the second afternoon of my stay at Mashatu. Bashi found this friend resting comfortably in the late afternoon shade. Presumably due to many prior encounters, and to well-established mutual respect and trust, she allowed us to spend a quiet half hour observing and photographing her at close range.

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The following morning, we caught up with Bashi’s leopard friend, as she basked in the sun on a sturdy branch of a tree, located at the edge of a dry river bed. Once again, she permitted us to observe her, and to photograph her, at close range.

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After about a half hour, our leopard friend climbed down from her perch, and walked along the river bed.

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Then the most special part of our encounters occurred. Comfortably ensconced on a log near the river bed, while we waited close by in our vehicle, as Bashi surmised that she would, the leopard called for her cub, which was hidden just a few yards away. A few minutes later the cub appeared on the log.

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Luckily for us, its mother decided that this was the perfect time to relocate her cub. The two leopards set off together across an open space, initially walking near each other, but eventually with the cub lagging behind. They allowed our vehicle to follow them on this hike.

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Bashi anticipated that the mother leopard would pick up her cub, to transport it more quickly across the open terrain, where it was more vulnerable. Sure enough, a minute or two later, she gently picked up her cub in her mouth, and carried it several hundred yards to safety.

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Wow! What an treat it was for me to observe and photograph these amazing animals, thanks to my guide and new friend, Bashi Patane.

Photographs and text by: Steven Genkins. For more beautiful images, please follow the link to his website.

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