Of Leopards and Bambi

This is my third trip to Sri Lanka to lead a photography tour and my fifth visit to Yala National Park in the southern part of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). The weather has been perfect, although a bit hot and humid. Blue skies every day, nice clouds, clear conditions.

On our second day in Yala, after a grueling game drive over rutted roads that test your digestive fortitude, we came across a leopard sleeping comfortably in a large tree that overlooked a wide plain. Yala has the densest population of leopards on Earth, with one leopard every 1-2 square kilometers, a truly astounding number. There are no guarantees of a sighting, but I have yet to visit Yala and not seen at least one.

Still, this specimen was a beauty, obviously healthy, alert and robust. She gave us quite a photographic treat for 30 minutes as she awoke, stretched and came down from her perch to roam her territory, before disappearing into the forest.

Later that afternoon, as luck would have it, we happened upon a pair of spotted deer fawns. There was no mother anywhere in sight. We waited and waited, but the obviously panicked pair reacted with a startle at every sound or movement in the forest. They were as tense as any animal could be.

As a wildlife, landscape and travel photographer, I’ve come upon situations like this many times. It’s the old story; as the sun comes up in the jungle the deer simply tries to survive for another day, while the predators hope to be able to eat. On any given day we can’t predict who will prevail. I wouldn’t give this pair much chance for long-term survival, but that leopard will thrill photographers for many years.

NOTE: I received a request for how these images were taken. I used my Nikon D810, paired with a Version 2 80-400 Nikkor lens. I only had the lens for a few weeks prior to Sri Lanka, so in essence this was an extreme field test. To surprise you (and me) still further, I added a 1.4 Nikkor tele-extender, which brought my working aperture to f8! To make matters worse, I was at least 600 yards from the leopard, which was in the shade. I was quite happy with the results, especially not having to drag 2 lenses with me (70-200mm and 200-400mm).

The specs: 80-400 with 1.4 tele-extender (effective 550m), 1/500 sec @ f8, ISO 1600.

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