Borneo / Travel / Wildlife

Befriending a Leopard Cat

11 Oct ’15

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Even after spending months doing fieldwork and wildlife photography, witnessing an uncountable number of amazing things, there are some encounters that stand out as once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

On one of our nights off from frog surveys Rachel, Joe and I grabbed our camera gear and headlights and headed out for a night walk. It was a beautiful night and we decided to do the 3 hr round trip to what had been affectionately dubbed ‘Cholera Lake’. We only took our macro photography gear and were on the lookout for ants and other cool creepy crawlies. About an hour walk out of camp we found a few of the common Giant forest ants (Camponotus gigas) rushing to and fro across the wide gravel road.

Whilst Joe and I were totally absorbed in taking photos of the ants, Rachel was scanning around with her flashlight looking for more cool photography subjects. Then, all of a sudden, there were two eyes shining back at her from up the road. “Look, look, look”. Seemingly unable to find more than that one word, Rachel informed us of the eyes coming closer every second. Casually sauntering down the road, about 25m from us, it was obvious from its walk that is was a cat but our lights were not strong enough to illuminate the animal. We all held our collective breath, hoping the animal wouldn’t suddenly dart off into the forest denying us an identification. Closer and closer it came and then, just plonked down at the side of the road amongst the grasses. It was a Leopard Cat (Prionailurus Bengalensis), the most frequently sighted of the Bornean cats but still not a commonly seen animal, and there it was sitting quietly as if waiting for it’s photo to be taken, we could not believe our luck. Joe and I snapped of a few “safety” shots, the type of photo you take just in case your subject suddenly runs off even if it’s definitely too far away/on the wrong angle to be a good photo, before risking moving to a better position for a photo.

Huddled together, we crept towards the cat, inching up the road to get to a better angle where the cat’s face was framed by grass not obscured by it. With every tentative step, we expected the cat to bolt off into the safety of the dense jungle but he just sat there appearing to be as interested in us as we were in him. It felt like hours we were honoured to watch this feline watching us but in reality it can’t have been longer than a few minutes. We were stopped about four meters from him when he must have got bored, he stood up, turned and just as casually as he had sauntered into our lives he disappeared into the bushy roadside undergrowth.

Our blood coursing with adrenaline, a tidal wave of noise exploded forth, exclaiming at our good fortune and laughing while shaking our heads at how unbelievable it all was. It was only then sense returned and both Joe and I realised we had been shooting with our macro lenses.

The whole thing was so surreal, usually we just get a glimpse of an animal before it is lost to the camouflage of the jungle. Although we did not have the right lenses for the subject we got some good images out of this amazing experience. It perfectly illustrates the saying, that the best camera is the one you have on you!

Prionailurus bengalensis Leopard Cat 1O9A5125

Text by Nicolas Rakotopare & Rachel Mebberson

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I am a nature photographer specialising in wildlife photography. I have a special passion for this type of photography which comes from my background as an ecologist & conservation biologist.

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