If you’ve ever been on a game drive with Freddy and me, you’ll know that our favourite thing to do is find an individual animal, or a group of animals, and stay with them watching their behaviour for as long as possible. The ability to do this relatively often is one of the very special things about Londolozi. In my opinion, that is what being out here is all about: you can go down a checklist of animals at a zoo just to ‘see’ them, but to actually be a part of a wild animal’s life, watching how it goes about surviving every day in its own environment, is incredibly unique to coming on a safari. This week I’ve highlighted a few leopard sightings where we did just this: stayed with the animals for almost the entire game drive, witnessing behaviours both distinctive of the individual as well as a few patterns. Enjoy this Week in Pictures…
The sun came back this week! Some of the most magnificent sights you will see in the bush are sunrises, sunsets, and stars, so the occasional break in the clouds is always welcome. On some days the temperature went into the forties!
The Camp Pan Male wakes up after sleeping on a termite mound, stirred by the sound of movement nearby. Still not venturing too far north into his old stomping grounds, he has been seen frequently further south on Londolozi.
He then turned around, siting a dazzle of zebra in the distance on the plains. They were moving in tall grass, so he leapt up and raced towards them, crouching and using the thick cover. Zebra might seem like a large target for leopards, but quite often big males like Camp Pan will prey on the foals.
Unfortunately for Camp Pan, the zebra moved onto a recently burned area with far less grass cover before he could get close enough to them. In any case, here he seemed to be noticing that this particular group contained only adult zebra. Freddy tells me that he once saw Camp Pan kicked unconscious by a zebra mare, so one can understand why he might be hesitant!
After accepting the fact that he would not hunt zebra that morning, he relaxed in the green grass on the verge of the burned area. You can really see how his camouflage works with the taller yellow grass, but how he is at a disadvantage with the short, fresh green grass.
An elephant enjoys the aftermath of the rains on a hot day. This young bull was having a great time playing in a mud wallow near the Sand River, and even wanted to douse us as well: I had to move the vehicle away to prevent the guests from getting a mud bath!
When we came across the Vomba Young Female she was picturesquely perched atop a fallen marula tree on a crest, scanning around for any signs of prey.
She then climbed down and started moving through thick cover, stopping for some buffalo dung: seemingly a real treat for leopards! There are several thoughts as to why the animals enjoy eating and rolling in the dung of buffalo specifically. The main theory is that it masks their smell somewhat while hunting, and perhaps eating it has benefits to their digestive system. Buffalo dung is usually soft and smelly, which is why they might choose to roll in it versus the hard pellets of antelope dung.
She used this broken tree as elevation to check out the surrounding plains. Some leopard use the 'elevation' method more than others, and in different ways: I have seen the Vomba Young Female climb trees like this quite often, where as the Maxabene Female, for example, uses elevation but in the form of termite mounds. Here, the Vomba Young Female was looking at a francolin on the ground which she pursued briefly and unsuccessfully! She then moved into a drainage line and we were unable to follow in the vehicle, but we considered ourselves lucky to be able to stay with her for as long as we had.
The textures we find in the bush can be just as picturesque as the animals themselves! This old leadwood tree skeleton is a landmark feature of southeastern Londolozi, and, estimated to be hundreds of years old, begs the question of what this tree must have seen over the years.
One of the four younger Tsalala lionesses sleeps just after the sunset. These four lionesses are related to the two lionesses currently with the cubs, but have been frequenting the northern side of Londolozi while the two mothers have been raising the cubs near the river. These lionesses are also the ones seen most often with the famous Tailless lioness, who was not present at this sighting. This evening we spent with the pride provided another great example of how staying with animals and watching them patiently can provide an incredible experience. Unfortunately from this moment on it was very dark and we could not take photographs, but it was a truly memorable sighting where we 'watched' and listened to them hunting impala and wildebeest in the dark. Just when we thought they were in a deep slumber they leapt up and stalked a herd of impala, and we guessed at their whereabouts on the open plains by the direction of the alarm calls of the prey (we do not shine out spotlights in a hunting situation as to not interfere). After about a half hour of sitting quietly and listening in the pitch dark, when we thought they were on the full hunt, Freddy noticed the four pale silhouettes lying about two metres from our vehicle. They had come up to us, completely unnoticed, as if to say, 'We're done with hunting and we'd rather come sit with you'.
How amazing to come across the Nyeleti Young Female on the rocks at Marthly Pools. As if seeing her so beautifully positioned on the granite rocks wasn't enough, in this sighting, we watched her playfully look in the pools at some monitor lizards, among other things...
After deciding that the monitor lizards were not a viable prey option, she contemplated what to do next.
She then lay down on the granite rocks. The Manyeleti River, or 'River of Stars', is a truly special place and it is understandable why this leopard seems to have made about 6 or 7 kilometers of riverbed her territory.
After scanning the nearby thickets for more monitor lizards, she decided to show us her agility and balance by jumping across the water. What follows is the series of shots as she leapt amongst the rocks.
She then ate some of the lush green grass around the water - something we've seen the herbivores do a lot recently after the rains, but not something you see a leopard doing very often. It appears to help them regurgitate material in the stomach that is perhaps making them feel ill.
Sure enough, she then walked into a thicket and vomited. Here, she was working up to it, but rather politely put her head down out of view for the actual event!
And on to the buffalo dung! The Nyeleti Young Female then found a nice, fresh pile of buffalo dung to smell, lick, and roll around in. She continued on her hunt afterwards, thus promoting the theory that they may use the smell to mask their scent.
Our final glimpse of her before she disappeared into a thicket on the hunt, beautifully posed against the giant trees of the Manyeleti River. Again, like the Vomba Young Female, using the fallen tree for a bit of elevation to check her surroundings. She also scent-marked on this tree; a territorial proclamation of this young leopard in a realm used by many before her, and thought of by many people as being a very spiritual place.