Emotion in wildlife always raises its head in trying circumstances and this day was no different.
I was coming to the end of a five night private photographic safari with guest James Dayley and my good friend and owner of Red Foot Safaris Rex Miller. Dust covered and exhausted we were about to call it a day and head home when the radio buzzed, “WILD DOGS have killed an impala.” Any thought of calling it a day and heading home was now extinguished from our previously tired brains and a new excitement and energy pulsed though our veins.
We raced to the scene, coming around a corner to find a pack of eight wild dogs ripping an impala to shreds, fighting and yapping over scraps. Excitement was at an all time high – our cameras smoking from the ever clicking shutters. A wild dog feeding frenzy is no glamorous affair but it does get the heart rate going and for avid bush lovers it is a once in a life time sighting.
After about an hour of intense feeding the very full dogs started to lie down and rest, and as if on cue the tiniest specks in the sky started to emerge and within minutes the sky was covered in a black cloud of vultures descending on the forgotten impala carcass as if they hadn’t eaten in years.
The game was on, just as the vultures started to feed a dog would run in and chase them, then the dog would retreat and as he turned his back the vultures would then come running in. It was an unbelievable spectacle of strategy and attack. This game lasted for about 40 minutes when suddenly both dogs and vultures took off.
As if this sighting couldn’t get any better! HOLD ON!
The scene erupted into a series of growls, branches flying, dust gathering and out of the bushes came a very angry, starving leopard. The Tamboti young female, barely one year old with still a lot to learn, decided that this was her chance, a very rare chance to steal a scrap. If she could get this, it could keep her going for at least another few days. Desperate, she grabbed the kill and started to make a break for the closest tree. As she gained on a thin bush willow tree she started to lose momentum and then as quickly as she had grabbed the kill it was stuck. The long dangly legs of the impala had got stuck! Desperate, we watched this young leopard try and free her kill before she got attacked.
The pack now sensing their chance descended on the young leopard, surrounding her and biting her back. What moments before seemed like an easy meal had now turned into the fight for her life. Suddenly a gap, the leopard sensing her chance and kill long forgotten, she made a break for the bush willow, getting into the tree seconds before the next wild dog attack.
The young leopard now safe but tired from the relentless chase. Quickly the wild dogs gave up. Sensing victory they moved off to find some shade and digest their impala. Very sheepishly the young leopard came down from the tree and instead of running away she ran straight back to the kill. The young leopard only had seconds to get the kill free from the bush and get it up the tree before the wild dogs attacked her again. By this stage the desperation in the young leopard was evident but the determination even more so.
Success! Finally the kill was safe in her claws and the young female leopard could breathe again and so could we.
Luckily for this young female leopard she managed to get a meal but learnt some valuable life lessons along the way!
Written and photographed by: Richard Burman