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