Moving his hand swiftly upwards, tracker Freddy Ngobeni indicated for me to stop, as he had just heard the chattering alarm call of a squirrel. I immediately switched off the vehicle, and looking in the direction of the distressed rodent, Freddy, without saying a word promptly got off his tracker seat and proceeded to make his way into the front seat of the vehicle. Instantly I knew he had spotted a leopard and began cheering internally, quietly yet with excitement explaining to my guests what had just happened. Upon approaching the leopard, we were amazed not only to see the Piva male but also the Tamboti young female, lying a few metres away from him! Little did we know this was only the beginning of what would turn out to be a phenomenal morning safari!
The Tamboti young female was in what can only be described as an amorous mood and began rubbing herself up against the Piva male, fluttering her tail in his face and subtly growling to win his affection. Reluctantly, he was persuaded by her persistence and they began mating. It is always such a privilege to witness leopards mating. They repeated their copulation on a number of occasions whilst slowly moving through the thicket and out into a clearing.
Whilst my guests were photographing the Piva male to our right, I noticed the gentle ear twitch of a kudu calf in a nearby thicket to our left. It was only a few seconds later that the Piva male turned his head and got a glimpse of the young kudu himself. Still in its infancy, the kudu was oblivious to the imminent danger stalking through the patchy grass. There was relatively scant cover for the Piva male to conceal himself behind, but he crouched as low as he could and made a swift yet methodical approach, pausing whenever it looked as if he might be spotted. Although we could see both predator and prey, it appeared as though the leopard made his stalk to perfection, as at no point did the kudu give any indication that it was aware of any danger. Being only young, maybe a couple of weeks old, the kudu probably wasn’t exhibiting the same kind of awareness an adult might have, nor did it have the relative protection and guidance of its mother, who must have been feeding elsewhere. Although she would probably not have had a chance of defending her calf against an adult male leopard, the mother’s extra pair of eyes and ears may have detected the danger in time.
With the Tamboti young female looking on, the Piva male took full advantage of the situation, raced in and quickly subdued the calf.
Having successfully made the kill, the Piva male dragged his prey through a clearing to a nearby thicket line. He proceeded to drag it onto a termite mound, roughly one hundred metres from the kill sight, thereafter laying down to catch his breath. All this time, the Tamboti young female was slowly trailing him, hoping for a free meal at some stage. After resting for a few moments, the Piva male began feeding whilst also scanning the trees above looking for a suitable place to hoist his kill and keep it away from the prying hyenas and lions.
Although the superb eyesight of Freddy Ngobeni made the initial discovery of the leopard pair, I believe that a more a powerful and profound lesson can be rendered from such an experience. If it had not been for the alarm calls of the squirrel, we may never have seen the leopards nor witnessed such an incredible sighting. It is a lesson that we can all learn from, and take with us in our daily lives; never disregard the small things in life, you never know what they might lead you too…
Filmed by Freddy Ngobeni