Tracks of a male leopard were called in, heading downstream in a dry riverbed. Great, we had a lead to work with! Bennet (the vastly experienced tracker that I work with) suggested we drive much further ahead to see if the tracks crossed out of the riverbed. Getting ahead of the 8-ball can be key to a successful track. Within a few minutes Bennet raised his hand telling me to stop. Some faint indents in the sand had caught his eye. Looking a bit more closely we realised that these were female leopard tracks. Had the other tracks been misidentified as a male? Either way, both sets of tracks were heading downstream. Our search party increased to three vehicles at this point. Things were looking up as this meant we could cover a larger area more effectively. We planned our next move.
“Stations we have just located the Tamboti female…” crackled the radio. Alex and Lucky had found her!
The excitement levels soared as we were on the exact road already. Every day I am impressed at the ability of the trackers to understand and predict the movement of the animals out here…
We rushed in to see her and realised that she was trying to remain hidden in the thick bush – she was interested in some impala nearby. They had already seen her though and their alarm calls forced her to stop the hunt. It would be near impossible for her to make a successful approach after being spotted. All we could see at this point was black spots on gold. Still exciting as ever though, and a true testament to their ability to remain camouflaged.
We carefully watched where she went as she moved deeper into the undergrowth, and managed to find her lying hidden amongst some long grass. My heart sank a bit when I realised that she was settling in for a sleep. All we could see was the tip of her tail and a rosette on her body… I did not want my guests to lose hope though. I reassured them that leopards are unpredictable and that they will sometimes get up and move around in the middle of the day.
Cats are known to yawn and groom themselves before getting up from a rest – these were the signs we were looking for. Read James Tyrrell’s recent blog on leopards and you will understand that patience is of utmost importance. This I tried to stress to everyone over and over. We all held our breaths whenever she periodically lifted her head, only to let out collective sighs as she dropped it flat down again.
After about 40 minutes of sitting and sharing stories, she finally did it… she yawned! Exactly what we had been waiting for. Then a second yawn. Great signs. She groomed a bit and then promptly got up and started walking. Everyone was elated! Finally, a first proper view of a wild leopard in all its glory. She walked about 10 metres and then lay down again… Was that her just finding a more comfortable spot?
Clearly not… She cocked her head up and stared past us into the thick bush. In a matter of seconds she dropped her body into her own shoulders and sprinted away from us, out of view behind the vehicle. She had seen something! I tried my best to execute a three point turn that would make driving instructors proud. Luckily out here no points are lost for bumping into trees! Seven turns later and I had just about managed a 180-degree spin. Where was she? We shot forward to the bank of the dry river bed – the other two vehicles were checking in the river bed. We saw their cameras raised – what could they see?? I drove until the tip of my bonnet was just sticking over the edge of the bank so everyone could see down the river. What we saw next was completely unexpected…
She had just caught an impala lamb! There had been no alarm calls. No sounds of distress. Just a quick and perfectly executed ambush. She had gone from being fast asleep to having an impala in her mouth within a matter of seconds. Unbelievable! She ended the life of the impala swiftly and proceeded to drag it up the bank towards us. Our luck had clearly not ended yet! She pulled it right towards us and began to eat it under a nearby tree.
Within about 10 minutes, a hyena had already arrived on the scene. A true display of speed and power was shown as she ran with the carcass in her mouth and leapt straight up into the nearest tree, scaling the near vertical trunk with ease. To add to the show, she jumped at least metres from one branch to another, still with the carcass in her mouth!
I have been spending time in the bush since 1995 and this is only the second time I have ever witnessed a leopard making a kill. However, I am still yet to see the leopard actually catch the prey! Both times it has happened just out of view.
There is always something more to look forward to out here, and every day the animals amaze us with displays of strength and resourcefulness.
Title Video by Londolozi Guest Gabriella Gibbon