It was a cool morning. The temperature was perfect and as the sun rose we stayed protected with a bit of cloud cover. A pack of two wild dogs had been seen early in the morning by another ranger but only very briefly so our plan was to try and find them again. We approached a waterhole just outside of Pioneer Camp and were met by a symphony of hippo calls. The waterhole was buzzing with action. A crocodile was snatching at small fish in the shallows and storks and hamerkops snapped at the ones scrambling to escape the large reptile. An African fish eagle was perched on one of the lower branches of a fallen over tree. Moments later it launched from the branches and took a very low flight route with its legs extended. Snatch! It dug its talons into the water, drawing out a fish and flew to the edge of the waterhole to feed. The vehicle erupted with exclamations. It had already been an incredible morning and we’d only just begun.
Only 100 metres later, two beautiful saddle-billed storks caught our eye but something else had caught the eye of Shadrack, our tracker. “Leopard! Leopard! Leopard!” he shouted. We all swivelled around and to our amazement, there was a female leopard right there, walking behind the vehicles and approaching a thicket. Sean Zeederberg, another ranger, and I looped around the thicket and waited for her to emerge. Moments later she popped out and walked right past our vehicles. It was the Mashaba female and she looked like she was very actively patrolling her territory. She would scent mark every 50 metres or so and then stop and scan the surrounding area. We weren’t sure if this was because of the rain we had had two nights before and she was re-scent marking her territory or if there was something else bothering her. The reason was to become clear soon enough.
The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the camps and vehicles.
She started moving into a very thick area where it was difficult for the vehicles to follow and so we decided to leave her – not knowing this wouldn’t be the last time our paths would cross that morning. Just as we got to the road a herd of about 70 impalas with calves came hurtling towards us, bomb-shelling in every direction and clearly fleeing from something.
Sean immediately took off to see what they were running from and as he did, two wild dogs appeared in the midst of the panicked herd. The wild dogs had managed to separate one of the impala lambs from the rest and chased it down a road and into a thicket where it fell victim to the pair. We could not believe this was all happening in such close proximity to the leopard! Some guests wore startled expressions, whilst the others were quiet with disbelief as the sharp calls of the dogs pierced the air.
The dogs ate the impala in no time at all. They are extremely fast feeders, an adaption that ensures the dogs get as much food as possible before other larger predators such as lions or hyenas have the chance to steal it. And because there were only two dogs, their chances of defending their kill was even slimmer than if they were with a larger pack. Whilst the chaos ensued around us, I got an update from another ranger that two leopards – the Flat Rock male and the Nkoveni female – were also in the area and that three hyenas were running in our direction, in all likelihood being drawn in by the yelping of the dogs.
A young female that lives to the east and south of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
A leopard who took advantage of the death of the 4:4 male in 2016 to grab territory to the west of the Londolozi camps.
As we heard the hyenas approaching from behind the vehicle, we turned to see three of them sprinting in. In the chaos, they had flushed the Mashaba female up a Marula tree 50 metres behind us. This was the same leopard we had left before seeing the wild dogs. The hyenas came racing in and the thicket behind us erupted with the shrieks and yelps so indicative of a hyena-wild dog interaction.
We really thought this was all the excitement we could possibly see in one morning but we were about to be proven wrong.
Read tomorrow’s blog to hear Sean Zeederberg’s account of what happened next.