Dale Hancock is a wildlife film maker who spent almost two years in the Mala Mala Private Game Reserve of South Africa. During this period of time he virtually lived with the leopards there. Through the full cycle of the seasons he studied their habits and daily behaviour. Learning about them in ways that cannot be even imagined by a typical two-week safari visitor. In this book Hancock shares the fruits of his labour, leading the reader into another world - the secret world of the leopard.
This is not the usual sort of African wildlife photography book. It is true that over 125 stunning shots are displayed throughout the 132 pages, some of which are showcased across two pages. But they come from the cameras of 13 individual photographers/film makers (including Hancock). All of which are past or present Mala Mala rangers, several of which have been on the winners list in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. If you are wondering what effect this patchwork quilt approach has on the photography you can rest assured, the pictures are inspirational.
The text discusses various aspects of Hancock's observations and discoveries while working in Mala Mala, and is imaginatively illustrated by the photographs. Chapter titles give enigmatic hints at the aspects being covered; Beginnings, Characters, Chauvinists, Confrontation, Wart alert and Action, lights camera!
The reader is led on a journey of discovery beginning with how the project got off the ground followed by an introduction to the individual animals that became part of Hancock's life. Rather than merely focus on the usual female and cubs scenario male leopard behaviour is given a chapter of its own. This is followed by a chapter on the various interactions a leopard can expect throughout its life. Strangely enough a chapter focussing on wart hogs adds to the story with a particularly interesting behaviour being described. The story is concluded with a discussion of some of the peculiarities of working on a project such as this. And the book finally ends with a small portrait and brief profile on each of the contributing photographers.
The text is fluently written. Taking the readers seamlessly from one topic to the next. Several times reference is made to more scientific observations but this is not dwelt on in the main body of the text. Such information is tabulated and provided in info boxes, allowing the reader to choose between studying the details or continuing with the narrative. A wise move in my opinion, as this prevents the flow of reading from being broken up, and stops the text from being bogged down by too much detail.
Written by a South African and published in South Africa this book has a refreshingly non-western feel about it. Anyone who is interested in getting beyond the stereotypical "pretty portrait" approach to African wildlife will undoubtedly find this book a fascinating read. If you are interested in leopards you will enjoy this book.