Sitting only meters away, it was difficult to see the Mashaba female leopard. She lay frozen, flat against the ground in the wispy grass. With brilliant camouflage she was well hidden from the herd of impala that she was stalking only 60 meters away. Her deliberate attention and patience is more than a virtue in the bush. Knowing that her approach would take some time we left to view the full-bellied cheetah that had been spotted nearby.
We arrived to see the cheetah surveying his surroundings in search of a spot to rest in the heat of the day. After presenting himself in our view, he wandered off the road and soon lay in some grass where we watched him doze. On our return to camp we again passed the leopard. She had moved about 20 meters closer to her next possible meal, patiently staring ahead. The rumbling of our tummies however tore us away towards the breakfast that awaited us at camp!
That afternoon we returned to see that the impala were still in the area and the leopard was nowhere to be seen. Thinking she had been unsuccessful, we started a search for her tracks. It was not long after that we received a call to say that the leopard was a few hundred meters up the road and had killed a young kudu calf. She was lying under a dense tree with her kill well hidden, slightly obscured by the twigs and grass around her. As time passed, we manoeuvred into a better position. Just as the engine restarted for us to leave, she sat up and stared directly at the camera. Her stare so direct and intense it felt as if it was boring though me into the depths of my soul. It was that magic moment of direct contact, looking eye to eye with the shutter clicking at the perfect moment. It was a new and powerful experience for me, reinforced by my wife who remarked how powerful it felt for her as she looked on from right behind me.
I thought that would be the last time we would see her, but the next morning whilst enjoying our morning coffee, hot chocolate and Amarula break, we heard the alarm call of a kudu. Melvin confirmed that kudu do not make false alarm calls, so we headed in the direction of the sound. We arrived back at the kill site to find the leopard under the tree with the remains of her kill thrust up and twisted amongst the low branches. A female and most likely the mother of the kudu that had been killed now stood about 10 meters away – barking at the leopard. The leopard returned her gaze, unmoved. Distressed in forlorn hope and with a mother’s instincts, she had returned to the site where she had lost her baby. I am sure I saw tears, hers or mine, I’m not sure.
We also enjoyed another wonderful sighting of a large herd of buffalo feeding on the move along the Sand River banks, the afternoon light was good and I managed to capture a buffalo bull looking straight on at us!
Have you ever had a moment with a wild animal that left you in awe? Share you experience below.
Written and Photographed by: Gavin Erasmus
Filed under Leopards Photography Wildlife
Great blog Gavin. Awesome experience.
21st November 2011 in Sth Luangwa N.P we had seen her kill in a tree in the afternoon and came back after dark where she was just lying on the sand.
Very similar to this blog, we were there for about half an hour. Amazing.
Wonderful photos Gavin and I loved hearing about your experience. I was at Londolozi in Sept. 2013 and felt that same connection when making eye contact with one of the big male Majingilane. It was an overwhelming experience of so many emotions…I will never forget that day.
Our offices are in a large open yard next to a pretty large wooded area. But we are in the midst of a city. We have a bobcat which frequents the wooded area and who makes itself visible from time to time. It is thrilling to think about it being there and even more fun when I happen to see it. I can imagine how much more of a thrill it is to see a larger cat. Be Careful!
It was a new snow late one night in the ‘burbs of Chicago, and I stepped out for some reason, to notice canine tracks all over the road in the new snow, like everywhere! In that area, it could only be Coyotes, and a pull told me to follow those I deemed freshest. I tromped through what sometimes was knee-deep older snow under the new, around trees, often squatting to less than half my total height under bushes, for almost half a mile, losing all track of time and distance, just following those tracks. When I arrived at what appeared (and was) the ‘end of the road’, I stood and looked around slowly. I could see the tracks didn’t cross the road in front of me, nor yard or parking lot to either side. As I was becoming confused about the sudden loss of tracks, I realized why… I was scanning slowly, thinking I’d maybe found a den, when amber eyes met mine, not 20-30 feet in front of me, the track maker! A large Coyote of such beauty I can’t describe, like it had been brushed by a groomer was just standing there, looking at me. Our eyes locked for what seemed like hours, and for an instant I was scared. Then to make it’s point, it showed me just how out of my element I was, and in what I can only describe as supernatural, it shot past me with incomprehensible speed. It’s body line never changed, but it’s head and ears ducked or it’s legs came up, as it passed through brush without displacing a twig…. and was gone. I was welded to that place for I don’t know how long, grinning like a child and loving the feeling of awe. I took the message to heart, that I’d received a rare gift and shouldn’t taint it. I walked straight to the adjoining parking lot and down the road of the industrial park until even with my house, taking the workers trail through the trees and onto the dead end street on which my house sat, and this incredible trip had begun. I was 16, am almost 40, and can see and feel it like it was today.
Thanks for the inspiration Gavin 😉