We left camp early to see if there would be any feeding activity of either the Mashaba female or her cub. Talley Smith and Freddy Ngobeni had tracked the female the previous evening to where she had the remains of an impala kill stashed, but the cub was relatively unrelaxed whilst they were there, and it kept hiding in the dense Terminalia thickets of the area. We were hoping for better luck the next morning, and were in position just as the sun started to appear on the eastern horizon.
The female leopard was lying near the base of the Weeping Wattle tree under which the kill was hidden, but of the cub there was no sign until tracker Mike Sithole spotted a curious pair of eyes peering at us from behind a grass clump about 30m away. We waited patiently and in silence, giving the cub a chance to relax with the vehicle nearby, and after awhile it slowly made its way towards its mother for a short grooming session. It then moved towards the kill, and although it was now hidden from us by dense foliage, we could hear the sounds of chewing emanating from the thicket.
A movement nearby caught our attention, and as all eyes turned, a spotted hyena suddenly appeared on the edge of the clearing. It was sniffing the ground, clearly following the scent trail of where the female leopard had dragged her kill.
She noticed the hyena a few seconds later, paused, and then rushed in to get her kill to safety, obviously trusting that the cub could make its own escape.
This is what transpired as the cub bolted for the thicket-line, right back past the hyena (not easy to see in the clip) while the female leopard snatched up a part of the impala carcass and danced her way to the higher branches of the Weeping Wattle.
Here she fed on the small piece of meat she had salvaged, while the hyena had to be content with a few scraps down below.
Eventually the hyena moved off, realising it would get no more food. The Mashaba female descended the tree, calling to her cub all the while, and we moved off to give them some peace after an eventful morning.
Written, Filmed and Photographed by James Tyrrell