We hadn’t seen Wild Dogs on the property in a week or so, but with the pack of 9 currently denning in the Western Sector of the Sabi Sands, we knew that to have a chance of finding these elusive animals, we would have to have a gamble at finding a different pack of 8 that ventures onto Londolozi from time to time in our South Eastern areas.
Moving into the Dudley Riverbank section, tracker Mike Sithole’s hand went up as he spotted tracks on the road. “Female leopard”, was his pronouncement, as he alighted the tracker’s seat to have a closer look. The tracks were on relatively hard ground, so we left the vehicle and moved forward on foot for a couple of hundred metres to establish the direction of the leopard. Mike reckoned she had cut South, but just to be sure we had a quick look in the Maxabene riverbed just next to us to see if her tracks had crossed through the sand.
Mike’s hand again shot up as a low growl emanated from a thicket just in front of where we were standing, but it turned out to be a small-spotted genet that we had disturbed during his daytime slumbers. Just as the genet darted out of a cluster of branches, disappearing into a reedbed, a bushbuck suddenly barked about 60m away up the slope to our right. Moving cautiously forward, Mike spotted a female leopard moving through the undergrowth a little way ahead of us.
Immediately abandoning our original plan to try and find Wild Dogs, Mike stayed behind with the radio to see which way she moved while I moved quickly back to the vehicle to bring the guests in to take a look at her.
It turned out to be the Dudley Riverbank female, a leopard not viewed much these days as increasing pressure from the younger Tamboti female has forced her and her almost-independent cub further South and East of our property.
She moved slowly through the Bushwillows and Knobthorns, with the occasional squirrel uttering its shrill chattering alarm-call at her.
As we skirted round a particularly large fallen tree to try and get a better view of her, a sudden distress cry was heard by Mike, and at the same time a nearby baboon troop started barking loudly. What the baboons had witnessed was the leopard stumbling upon and successfully catching an adult duiker while she was hidden from us by a buffalo thorn tree. As we regained sight of her the duiker, firmly clasped in her jaws, was still kicking it’s last.
She began dragging the kill towards a large Jackalberry tree, and settled down to feed in the shade of a Gwarrie bush growing at the Jackalberry’s base.
Ranger Chris Goodman witnessed her hoisting the kill late that evening, so the next morning we set off back to the tree to see if she was possibly feeding. Ranger Rich Burman arrived just ahead of us, and excitedly radioed to say that there were now two leopards there. As we arrived we saw that it was the Dudley Riverbank female’s latest daughter that had arrived at the scene as well, and was now up the tree near the remains of the Duiker carcass. Interestingly enough, she was openly hostile towards her mother who was moving down below on the ground.
Just as we had moved in to park for a better view of the most likely part of the tree that the leopards would use to either ascend or descend, one of the other vehicles frantically signalled to us that they had glimpsed another leopard approaching! It was the Camp Pan male, who had either spotted or smelt the carcass in the tree, and was moving in to try and grab a free meal.
The Dudley Riverbank female, resting at the base of the Jackalberry, did not see him until he was barely 5 metres away, and leapt off into the bush with a loud snarl. With his eyes only on the duiker kill stashed high above him, the Camp Pan male launched himself up the tree. The young leopard up on the branch, now cut off from her line of retreat, took the only option available to her, and with a running start, dived headlong out of the Jackalberry, plummeting a good 4 metres down and landing hard on her stomach!
The male leopard meanwhile had reached the kill, and dragged it straight back down the tree where he commenced feeding, while the Dudley Riverbank female prowled around in the background, looking for any opportunity to grab some of her kill back. There was none forthcoming, and both she and her cub vanished into the thickets along the Sand River.
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell
Filmed by Jeremy McGlinchy (Londolozi Guest)