As a guide, one of the questions I get asked most often is, “What is the best sighting you have ever had”
I cannot tell you how many thoughts rush through my head when I am asked this question. I have been fortunate enough to be part of so many unbelievable and rare sightings that picking one almost seems impossible! I can remember a wild dog sighting where we watched the wild dogs chase an impala into one of the waterholes and like vultures at a lion kill, patiently waited for the opportune moment to pounce. The wild dogs waited at the water’s edge for what felt like hours before one summoned up the courage and went into to water to force the impala towards the other side. The understanding demonstrated by this animal to know that the rest of the pack were going to be waiting for the hapless impala was simply extraordinary.
Another sighting which conjures up fond memories was when I had my first sighting of a leopard cub. We had seen the female leopard a couple of days before and realised that she was lactating. It was a cold winter morning and tracker Euce Madonsela and I decided to try and find this particular leopard in order to verify our suspicions. It was tough! We drove around for a couple of hours before we had the first signs of her walking down towards an old dry river bed (a perfect spot for a female to hide her cubs). We got off the vehicle and found her tracks heading towards a jumble of debris. Euce’s excitement reached fever pitch when he all but assured me the cubs were going to be in there. We got back into the vehicle and made our way to the debris. Patiently we sat and waited…. approximately 20 minutes later we heard sounds coming from the tangle of branches, and the smile on Euce’s face told the whole story. The leopard came out of the tangle shortly followed by her two 2-week old cubs. She lay down in front of the vehicle and the tentative youngsters gingerly made their way to their mother and proceeded to suckle right in front of us. Being able to view a cub, let alone two of these elusive animals will make even the most avid safari goer shed a tear.
But the best sighting I have ever had happened in August last year. On the previous afternoon game drive ranger Nick Sims had found a male leopard in the northern parts of the reserve after the leopard had managed to kill a young giraffe! When I caught news of this event I thought he was joking because leopards surely don’t hunt giraffe, do they?
My curiosity got the better of me and we headed to the area the following morning. As we approached the area excitement was reaching boiling point! We could make out the shape of a predator in the distance and in that moment silence engulfed the vehicle… the closer we got we could soon tell that it wasn’t a leopard, but two hyenas feeding on a giraffe carcass. Everyone in the vehicle expected to see a leopard in the area so naturally they were quite disappointed. However, I told everyone that the leopard could still be somewhere around. We drove in a few concentric circles and sure enough, Euce managed to spot a massive male leopard sitting no more than 50 metres away from the kill. It was the Anderson Male. I had never seen this individual before and had only heard ell and about his size. To say I was in awe would probably be the understatement of the century. He is truly enormous! He looked fixedly at the hyenas with eyes wide open, possibly for an opportunity to regain his prize. The hyenas managed to dislodge a leg of the young giraffe and hastily made away with it. The leopard, without hesitation, ran towards the kill and swooped it up in one fluid motion. This caught the hyenas by surprise and they immediately dropped the leg they had been chewing on and charged back towards the carcass. The leopard dragged it at astonishing speed towards a nearby Cassia tree with the now trailing hyenas hot on his heels. He reached the trunk and without a second’s pause, hoisted it up in one seemingly effortless motion.
While the carcass was being hoisted, one of the hyenas managed to grab hold of the back leg of the giraffe. This was the make or break moment for the leopard. It turned into a tug of war with the leopard up the tree and the hyena dangling in mid air hanging on to the giraffe’s leg. We could not believe what was transpiring in front of us. The hyena eventually conceded, falling back to the ground, and the exhausted leopard had claimed back the kill that he no doubt worked very hard for!
We were left speechless by this raw display of brute strength. We watched the Anderson male for another couple of minutes before deciding to leave him with his hard-earned kill.
Every day in the wilderness could potentially produce the best sighting of one’s life. All it requires is a bit of patience, some luck and perseverance. Nature has an uncanny way of rewarding one if these characteristics are in place. Go out there and enjoy yourself. The script has been written, all you need to do is be part of it.