It was my guests’ last morning drive, and they were filled with mixed emotions at the thought of their departure back home to America. We had had a spectacular three days together, and had seen a variety of phenomenal sightings, many of which will remain in all of our memories forever. But the best was yet to come…
We set out on the last drive on a cool and overcast morning with the intention of looking for hyenas. After checking a known active hyena den site, and being lucky enough to get a sighting of two youngsters, we continued our drive, appreciating the morning sounds and smells of the bush.
Our only other plan for the rest of the drive was to identify a suitable spot for morning coffee, so we could reminisce over the experience of the past three days. After agreeing with Euce on which road to drive and where to stop, we continued on. Moments later, Euce raised his hand, signalling for me to immediately stop the vehicle. Having worked with Euce for some time now, I am well aware that this only happens when he has spotted something exciting… and this time was certainly no different!
In amongst the tall grass, Euce had spotted the white tip of a leopard’s tail flicking from side to side as it moved silently through the stalks in front of us. We continued to follow what we identified as a young male leopard, one unknown to us. We followed at a distance as he seemed to be on the hunt and we didn’t want to disturb. Up and down he moved, with his nose to the ground, moving very purposefully from one termite mound to another. Leopards tend to do this whilst on the hunt in the hopes of flushing out warthogs who make use of the existing holes and thick vegetation surrounding these mounds as cover.
We watched as he approached each mound carefully, the fourth of which had a large hole at the base of it. The leopard sniffed along the edges of the hole, and much to our surprise, began to dig around the hole, making it large enough for him to fit inside. After a short while of digging, the leopard proceeded to go down into the hole until he was no longer visible.
We waited in anticipation for what must have been a minute or two, fully expecting to hear the panic stricken squeals of a defensive mother warthog. What happened next none of us could have anticipated…
A large noise erupted from the hole, followed by a cloud of dust and a flash of white… a large porcupine had come darting out of the same hole at a rate of knots, leaving the leopard in the hole behind it. Despite being as shocked as I was, I managed to point my camera in the direction of a now fleeing porcupine and managed to get a few shots of it running off into a thicket of shrubs nearby.
We all immediately looked back towards the hole, expecting the leopard to emerge covered with a face full of porcupine quills. Surprisingly, no damage had been done at all! The leopard emerged somewhat bewildered but seemingly unscathed. It was all over in a flash, so fast in fact that we didn’t have time to process what had just taken place.
Determined to catch what had now escaped, the leopard continued to follow the scent, heading in the direction in which the porcupine had run off. However, twenty minutes went by and the leopard was no closer to finding the porcupine, so it settled down in some long grass, licking what I could only imagine were small puncture wounds inflicted by the sharp quills.
Just as we were getting ready to start heading back to camp for the morning, the leopard suddenly sprung into action, leaping into the air once, twice and finally on the third occasion catching in the blink of an eye what looked like a quail of some sort, mid-air! He spent all of five minutes devouring the tiny meal and then proceeded to lie down in some shade provided by a large Weeping Boer-bean tree.
It was a series of events that was not only totally unexpected but something that we would probably never witness again. And all in the last twenty minutes of my guests’ safari experience.
What a way to finish!