Using Flash or Spotlight on Cats at Night
Jeep, guests, spotlights and flash light, impact a hunting leopard
"Why do you shine a light
Into my eyes
The prey can see me stalk the night
You come into my place
Invade into my space
Do you ever think of me"
From the song "Respect" by JV
Thank you to all of you who responded to the
Newsletter "Who has the best eyesight of them all"
Dudley Steenkamp writes as follows:
The dilemma that Dudley Steenkamp highlights in
his letter, is one which every guides worth his or her salt is faced
with on a daily basis, especially at night.
The cats eyes are designed like the lens of a
camera. In low light, you open your lens wide and in bright light
you close your lens down.
Therefore a lion or leopard hunting in the dark
has its lenses (pupils) wide open.
Now you flood the eyes with spotlight or
flashlight or any light, you cause the lens to close. Now the lion or
leopard must wait for you to take the light away to let its eyes
readjust to the dark so it can hunt again and this severely
disadvantages the cat.
One jeep full of guests all taking photos leave
the hunting cat and another 2 or 3 jeeps arrive and repeat the
process of shining the lights into the unfortunate cat's eyes.
When I made the film "Silent Hunter", I pursued
the Mother Leopard relentlessly. The word "sensitivity" was not on
my agenda. It was get pictures at all costs.
Mating leopards viewed at night
One night the Mother
Leopard made three kills and lost two to spotted hyena and one to lions.
After the third kill was lost, it occurred to me that perhaps I was
the reason for her losing the kills.
The spotted hyenas and lions knew the sound of my
jeep. My filming lights could be seen for miles and they knew
wherever I was, they would find the Mother Leopard. Hyena and lions
knew she was a good hunter and once she made the kill, they could
Since this time, we have gone through our own
evolution and have tried red lights, infra lights, low impact lights
etc with varying degrees of success.
The hard facts are that in the eco tourism
industry, one enters into an unwritten contract with the habituated
cats who are generally the stars and the main attractions of one's
The impact on a pride of lions is far less than a single leopard
The contract reads something like this: I will
not hunt, trap or poison you. I will not harass you and your cubs. I
will protect you from poachers and hunters. I will have respect for
you as a fellow creature.
Every guide and photographer enters
knowingly or unknowingly into this contract on the understanding
that he or she will try to keep the relationship as symbiotic as
possible. However the relationship can never be perfect.
The fact that you are parked 40m from a leopard, has already
affected the leopard. Six excited guests talk in loud voices and pop
flashlights. Every hyena and lion for 5km radius of your jeep, know
exactly what is happening. A leopard sighting is in progress.
As a guide or photographer, the best you can hope
for, is to minimize the impact. If the leopard is suckling small cubs and hasn't
killed for 4 days, move away from her and let her be. If she has a
three day old impala kill stashed in a marula tree, by all means
photograph her, backlight her, use flashlight in the knowledge that
you are impacting her, but not so severely.
It goes back to the training of the guides and the
sensitivity they acquire. It also goes to the ability of the
guide to communicate to the guests, who has limited time to capture
that magic picture. The message should be that if we impact the leopard less today, she
may well reward us with a kill tomorrow.
It goes back to a deep passion to do what is
right for a creature who is both beautiful and intelligent, but
different. It goes to finding the balance between earning valuable
income which allows you to protect the wild cats for future
generations. It goes back to respect.
Tread Lightly on the Earth