Whenever Wild contributor Umar Daya visits the Kruger National Park, he sets his (and his camera’s) focus on a very specific subject matter: the park’s big cats.

Hailing from Trichardt in Mpumalanga, 26-year-old Umar says he owes his love for nature to his dad, who has been taking him to the Kruger since childhood. “I escape to the bush at every opportunity I get so that I can pursue my passion for wildlife photography.” He shared a few of his favourite big cat pictures – and exactly how he achieved the stunning images – with us.

Wild also did a bit of investigation to bring you a few interesting facts about big cats and their behaviour – both fascinating and strange.

Cheetah-Kruger National Park-Umar Daya
Where?

H4-2 between Crocodile Bridge and Lower Sabie. The majority of Kruger’s cheetahs occur in the south, between the Crocodile and Sabie rivers.

Umar says: “The mother and two cubs (the mother and one cub are seen in the picture) were hunting a herd of impala close to gate-closing time and paused for a moment to take an observant look at the herd. I positioned myself to get the two bodies emerging from one as this granted me the opportunity to give the impression of an offspring sprouting from its mother.”

Did you know?

Cubs spend about 18 months with their mother, learning how to hunt. It can take another year or two before they become skilled hunters.

Leopard-Kruger National Park-Umar Daya-1

Where?

H1-1 close to Pretoriuskop

Umar says: “The leopard had crossed the road and stopped to look back before disappearing into the bush. The evening light illuminated its beautiful coat whilst the tall grass, synonymous with the Pretoriuskop region, helped me to achieve the ‘Master of Camouflage’ look I wanted to highlight. I focused on the eye of the leopard in the background and used wide aperture ensuring the grass in the foreground would be blurred by the shallow depth of field.”

Did you know?

Every individual leopard can be identified by its unique whisker pattern, as well as a series of spots along the chest.

Leopard-Kruger National Park-Umar Daya-2
Where?

S39 Timbavati River Road

Umar says: “The huge male had a kill in the tree and was quite relaxed after eating a substantial amount. After spending a few hours at the scene, the leopard awoke from his slumber, which allowed me to capture the relaxed pose depicted in the photo.”

Did you know?

Leopards are able to haul more than twice their own body weight up a vertical tree. Glancing upwards, it takes them just a split second to plan their route up.

Lion-Kruger National Park-Umar Daya-1
Where?

S39 close to Timbavati Picnic Area

Umar says: “Coming across a semi-blinded lion is rare enough, but coming across two from the same pride was a unique sighting. I focused on the bloodshot eye of the lioness to capture a sharp representation of the damaged blood vessels. The lioness in the background was the biggest I have ever come across in all my travels to the Kruger. I am amazed at these animals’ adaptability and will to survive.”

Did you know?

Certain external characteristics of a lion’s face, like the white stripes under their eyes, may enhance their night vision. These stripes reflect weak light into the eyes to maximise the amount of light that enters the eye.

Lion-Kruger National Park-Umar Daya-2
Where?

S41 Gudzani Road

Umar says: “After spending about an hour here with a pride of lions, a herd of impala had wandered to a stream not too far from where the lions were based. In a few seconds one of the lionesses had chased and caught an unfortunate member with the rest of the pride – most notably three males – rushing to the limp body and literally ripping it into two halves, whilst the impala was still alive, with ease. The power of a full grown male lion is simply astounding.”

Did you know?

It’s harder for lions to make a kill in open terrain. They generally stick to areas where it is easier to hide and ambush prey.

Lion-Kruger National Park-Umar Daya-3
Where?

Rabelais Road close to Orpen

Umar says: “On an evening drive my wife and I stumbled upon a mating pair on the road. The male, known as Scarface of the infamous Skybed coalition, was not impressed by our intrusion of their privacy and issued us with a warning as we approached. He quickly relaxed and carried on marking his territory with the lioness at ease.”

Did you know?

When a male lion takes over a pride, he will kill existing cubs.

All images were taken with a Nikon D7100 and Sigma 120-300 f2.8 lens.