This “purple patch” that I have heard about lately in the Londolozi blogs is quite a remarkable phenomenon not just experienced by the tracker and ranger teams but by guests as well. This purple patch is an unpredictable run of absolutely amazing sightings. During my many stays at Londolozi I have experienced this magic time and time again. This allows me the ability to sit back and relax, knowing that at just the right moment I will see what I am meant to see. It is as if out of nowhere a curtain is drawn back and you become the audience with a front row seat to a unique, once-in-a-lifetime show that brings about emotions as unpredictable as the sighting itself. But on this last trip in April, on my last day and on my last drive with what began as plan C, I experienced a patch that was undeniably purple.
When it comes to successful drives there is most certainly an element of skill, cooperation and patience but luck and timing are huge too. What is visible and wonderful one minute, could vanish in an instant.
Ranger James Souchon, Tracker Richard Mthabini, Ranger in training at the time, Guy Brunskill and I were sitting in the car park of Founder’s Camp after our quick cup of coffee on the deck -my bean bag set for my camera, a warm plaid blanket for a bit of warmth on the cool damp morning and all we needed was a plan. We began to discuss our options for our last morning drive together. There were no other guests in the vehicle (a little patch of purple right there) so it was up to us (me) to decide. Plan A, Plan B, nothing is striking me. I have had five days of incredible sightings. There isn’t anything I can think of except to have a relaxing morning and find a special place for a last morning coffee stop. Just then James says something that made my ears perk up… “How about we go back to where we last spotted the Nanga leopard and her cub near the Manyalethi River?” Something inside me knew it was the right plan. I hastily agreed and off we went with the night air still hanging in the sky.
As we drove away, James asked if I had a last request for any sighting, what would it be? I didn’t have to think too hard; it was seeing a leopard in a tree for sure. This has always been one of my favourite scenes. I had seen many sightings of leopards and their cubs on this trip but I hadn’t had an unobstructed view yet because of the tall grasses at this time of year. “Oh yes, and one more thing actually,” I said. “I’d like to see a herd of elephants coming down to the river for a drink and to see them cross.” Those two requests came quickly to me as if I had prepared them ahead of time.
We crossed the river west of Pioneer Camp and proceeded towards where we last saw the Nanga female and her cub. Rich spotted some leopard tracks and he, James and Guy jumped off the vehicle, rifle and radio in hand to look for some more signs. They turned up the radio and told me to listen for updates from them. I sat contentedly as the sun remained below the horizon, beautiful colours beginning to appear. Not even ten minutes later, James called on the radio telling me that when Guy returned I should have him turn the vehicle around and pick him and Rich up as they had just heard the sounds of a leopard. Just as they got in the vehicle a herd of elephants appeared at the tree line in the distance, heading for the river. We sat and waited as the large breeding herd proceeded towards us at a rapid clip, as if they were alarmed.
James said, “It’s a risk but they are probably going to cross and if we want to, we could race back across the river and anticipate the path that they likely to drink at and cross from”. It sounded like a good idea to me so off we raced back down the embankment and across the water. Moments after we positioned at the river, one elephant appeared at the cliff beside the river bank and headed down towards the water. Soon small groups of the herd follow close behind, some stopping to drink while others just splashed their way across the water. What a breathtaking view for sunrise!
After that we headed back to the location of the leopard calls. No obvious tracks were seen but Rich decided to jump off the vehicle to look a bit closer. Just as he did, we noticed something move in the grass off to the left, not far from where Rich was standing. Amazingly enough, it was the Nanga female leopard waiting to cross the road to retrieve the remains of her kill that she had stashed in a tree. The speculation was that she had stolen it back from a hyena who had grabbed it from her during the night. She crossed and climbed up the small dead tree to fetch what was left of the carcass. And who pops out beside her? Her little cub! The mother then began to drag her prize to a new location through a thicket next to the dry Manyalethi Riverbed farther down from where she was last spotted. James Tyrrell and Amy Attenborough were sitting in the dry riverbed waiting to see if she was going to come out the other side but she stopped in the thicket line to feed on her kill. Although we knew her cub was with her, it was last seen heading into a thick bush and we couldn’t get a good view.
The Nanga female was born to the Nyelethi 4:4 female in 2009 as part of a litter of three.
We decided to leave her and go off to have our last morning coffee with what has been promised to be a stunning view. We parked on the trail and hiked up to a large set of granite boulders, overlooking the river and koppie off to the left. Guy and Rich prepared our Chocmochas (a delicious blend of French press coffee, hot chocolate and amarula) and cookies and brought them up the boulders. We relaxed and enjoyed our last morning together and packed up to see what else we can find.
Just as we got going, Ranger Grant Rodewijk contacted James to say that they had found a pack of thirteen wild dogs who we got to spend a few short moments with. As is typical of dogs, they were gone in a blink but it’s always a huge treat to see these painted wolves.
Just as they disappeared, we got a call from Grant to say that he’d relocated Nanga and her cub in the tree beside the dry riverbed. Not only did I get a leopard in a tree but I got a leopard in a tree with her cub. Just then a light mist began. There wasn’t much room for two vehicles but we managed pretty well and got situated to take some last photos of this beautiful mother and cub resting with their legs draped across a tree limb.
I literally got everything I hoped for and just in time. A purple patch I’ll never forget.