As guides, much of what we attempt to do is capture the extraordinary so that you can live the Londolozi experience, through our lenses, wherever you may be in the world. Sometimes we get it horribly wrong, forgetting memory cards for cameras or making the rookie error of not bringing enough batteries but sometimes the stars align and something fabulous comes together.
A few days ago, James Tyrrell, Simon Smit and I headed out into the bush at the crack of dawn and switched off the engine only minutes out of camp to identify a bird. As is so often the case, the timing was impeccable and out of the soothing stillness of the morning came the sudden frantic snorting of impala. We ascertained where these alarm calls were coming from and sped in that direction. By the time we got to the herd, maybe a kilometre away, they were all quiet, but one ram was looking intently south and so we decided to follow his cue. The problem was that we just couldn’t be sure which way the predator – which we assumed was a leopard – would be moving from there. We switched the engine off to have another listen and in the distance heard some impala rams rutting. Guessing this leopard was in search of food, we decided to move towards that herd. It seemed more than likely that a distracted impala was exactly what a hunting leopard was wanting. As luck would have it, we were right on the money. Only a few hundred meters on James pulled off a great spot and we found the Nhlanguleni female moving through the thickets and she looked hungry.
Over the next hour and a half we followed her at a respectful distance as she searched for food. Impala spotted her, kudus alarmed at her but eventually she happened upon a family of unsuspecting warthogs, and that’s when our inner photographers snapped to attention. She was in an area that was fairly open but being a leopard, she had the advantage of appearing like nothing more than dappled light, and the mother and three piglets remained none-the-wiser.
After a few moments of tensed muscles and complete focus, she broke into a jog and only accelerated the moment her quarry turned and saw her approaching. The mother and two of the piglets headed one way and the third piglet bolted another, isolating itself from the rest of the sounder. Remember that adult warthogs are potentially aggressive animals, and this was not a one-sided affair. Their tusks are dangerously sharp, and present a serious threat for a leopard because they are so close to their throat (exactly where the leopard needs to grab hold of to administer a killing bite). I’ve witnessed many scenarios in which the leopard gets it completely wrong and actually, rather comically, ends up having to run from the angered warthog.
The mistake made by the large sow in this particular situation though, was that once she had committed to going in one direction, she couldn’t defend the youngster that had chosen another.
Suffice to say, the ending was inevitable.
It is never easy to see a life being taken but this leopard was very hungry and although we have no confirmation, we believe she does in fact have cubs that she is hiding somewhere in the river. What we saw here was a completely necessary play in the delicate balance of life.
One thing that we know for sure is that in the wilderness, wild animals do whatever it is that they want and you can’t screenplay, re-do or manipulate the situation. Nature plays to its own script and all you can hope for is to be there and be ready for whatever it is that’s about to happen. This situation certainly wasn’t perfect and a lot of the action happened through trees with the actual takedown occurring in dense foliage. However we came away from the experience thrilled to have watched the leopard’s process, seen her remarkable skill and to have witnessed the circle of life at play. With the dust settled and the footage downloaded, what we now hope is that by telling this story, you too can re-live this remarkable experience with us…