Living and working in the bush, we are constantly reminded of what a privilege it is to be in the presence of wild animals. No two days in the bush are the same, and every time the rangers and trackers set out each morning and afternoon, we are filled with excitement and anticipation of what we might encounter out there.
One morning in particular stands out for tracker Euce Madonsela and myself. It was a brisk spring morning and we set out nice and early in search of the secretive and elusive leopard. Being crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk), we knew that our best chance of finding one would be during the first few hours of the day, before the sun got too hot.
We weren’t too far from camp when Euce indicated to me that he had spotted some fresh male leopard tracks zig-zagging on and off the road in front of us. After jumping off the vehicle and inspecting the tracks together, we determined that they were very fresh and worth following. I could see by the excitement on Euce’s face that he thought there was a strong chance that the creature was still in the immediate area, and that we probably weren’t too far behind him.
Only a short while later, Euce spotted the leopard moving through a red bushwillow thicket not too far from where we found the first tracks. The feeling of tracking and finding an animal, and a leopard in particular, is totally exhilarating, even if the process didn’t take long, and it’s something I find difficult to place into words.
Euce and I high-fived each other for finding this magnificent creature, and proceeded to follow him, every now and then taking an opportunity to position ourselves ahead of him on his territorial patrol, thereby allowing him to walk towards the vehicle, making for some great photographic opportunities.
The pictures below are of the Piva male, as he walked right past our Land Rover, much to everyone on board’s excitement.
After following the animal for a brief period of time, he entered a drainage line inaccessible for our vehicles. At this point, Euce asked me to follow the drainage line and wait at a crossing, which turned out to be an incredible use of foresight, and a perfect example of understanding animal behaviour, as well an intimate knowledge of the area. After what felt like hours due the excitement and anticipation, the leopard appeared from aroundf the bend, and continued to walk towards us.
The pictures below were taken from the moment the leopard walked out of the drainage line, and once again, directly in front of our vehicle.
We continued to follow, and watch in awe, as this beautiful animal continued along his way, scent marking his territory as he went, before settling down and allowing us to get some great images of him bathed in golden morning light.
Every moment I spend out in the bush is incredibly special, and our rangers are continuously encountering unforgettable moments like this one, and this was certainly a morning that I will not forget any time soon.