The Most Incredible Camera Trap Leopard Photo Ever?

By James Tyrrell
Photographic Guide/Media Team, Londolozi Game Reserve

Amazing camera trap image

Editor’s Note:  A version of this post also appeared on Londolozi Game Reserve’s blog, written from their viewpoint as our partner in surveying South African leopard populations.  

“No doubt the best leopard picture we’ve ever captured!”  – Dr. Guy Balme.

When a renowned leopard biologist who also happens to be the director of the Leopard Program for Panthera, the world’s premier big cat conservation organization, makes that claim, you know it’s not simply spurious.

After over 100 camera trap surveys run across South Africa since 2013, with in excess of 5 million images taken and over 10,000 leopard captures, we were quite pleased to have Guy say this about the absolutely phenomenal image below, of the Ndzanzeni young male leopard taking down an adult nyala cow in broad daylight, while a panic-stricken sounder of warthogs flees in the background.


The photograph was taken on the 20th of this month at just after 1pm as part of a camera-trap survey being conducted by Panthera (more on this in the next while), and I think can lay to rest any notion of leopards being exclusively nocturnal, for one thing.

For those who don’t know what a camera trap is, it’s a remotely activated camera equipped with some kind of trigger (the ones in this study use infra-red sensors) left in the field to capture images of animals when researchers aren’t present. If no other leopard images are captured on Londolozi during the 50-day survey currently underway, the image above will still make it a roaring success!

After a number of blogs written about the male leopard in question, and his apparent refusal to become independent, it seems almost fitting that it was at this particular waterhole (just out of picture to the right), where he is regularly to be found, that he made this giant leap towards adulthood.


The day after this capture, his father the Inyathini male was found next to the water, his belly full, clearly indicative of him having fed on a kill. About an hour after he was found there, the Ndzanzeni male himself arrived to drink, and lay down only a few meters from his father, who showed no aggression towards him.

There wasn’t unanimous consensus among the field team whether it was the father or son taking down the nyala, but spot pattern recognition software revealed it be the young male. The Inyathini male would most likely have stumbled upon the kill, and being significantly larger than his son, would have had no trouble in appropriating a chunk of it for himself.

Two days after the original image was captured, head trainer for the Tracker Academy, Renias Mhlongo, and his students were searching for leopard near the pan, found tracks, and with no prior knowledge of the camera trap photo or what had happened, recreated the scene from just the footprints. Renias reported that two different males had been there but ultimately the kill had been stolen by hyenas.


Both leopards have since moved on, but with the camera trap project in place for another three weeks, and stations set up all over Londolozi, we can’t wait to see what the next batch of photos turns up!

Learn more about leopards, the threats they face, and how Panthera and partners are working to address them here.