If you’ve been lucky enough to visit Londolozi you’ll know that you head out on safari each day with a plan in mind. Ideally it would be to focus on trying to find a particular type of animal and then whatever you see along the way is a bonus. When we left on drive this particular afternoon we set out looking for the Tamboti female, but we had absolutely no idea just what the bush had in store for us.
After spending the majority of the afternoon with a large journey of giraffe and a herd of elephants that were drinking and playing around a waterhole in the middle of the property, Innocent Ngwenya (who I track with) and I decided to drive a road we hardly ever go.
In truth we took this route because it was the quickest way to get to the place we wanted to have a sundowner at. We weren’t on this road for longer than a couple of minutes when Inoccent’s hand flicked up off the bonnet, which always indicates that he has seen tracks worth stopping for. In this case they were of a young female leopard and looked fresh! The light was fading fast so we were racing against the clock now.
Innocent and I left the guests on the vehicle and followed the tracks on foot. Suddenly the alarm calls of a crested francolin sounded from nearby, and after a quick scout in that direction, we caught sight of the leopard about 50m from us.
For me personally, it doesn’t get much better than tracking and finding a leopard on foot; I was convinced this would be the highlight of my afternoon. I excitedly headed back to collect the guests and the vehicle and drove quickly into the bush to try find where the leopard had gone too. Often when a leopard sees you on foot they will move off quickly into the nearest thicket and disappear, but when we saw this individual, she seemed more interested in something on the ground than myself and Innocent .
As we moved closer with the vehicle we realized that she hadn’t moved much since the last time we had seen her, sitting dead still and fixated on something a few meters in front of her. It looked like she was stalking something but we just couldn’t make out what is was.
As a young female (just over a year old now), I have watched her practicing her hunting skills on everything from a rhino to a scrub hare. As we moved around a small shrub to see what she was stalking, Innocent shouted, “PANGOLIN PANGOLIN!!!”
As a defense from predation a pangolin will curl up into a ball so that its hard exterior is facing outwards and a predator is unable to get to its soft underbelly. The Tamboti young female treated us to about 20 minutes of her trying desperately paw and bite her way through the pangolins hard scale before losing interest and moving on.
Unfortunately in the excitement of it all I seemed to lose all concept of how to use my camera so only managed to take a few half decent photos. After the young leopard moved off we managed to get a closer look at the pangolin. Innocent told us that in the Shangaan culture they are an extremely protected animal, that if you kill a pangolin and the blood drops on the ground there will be a drought for many years.
Fortunately this one was unharmed by the leopard encounter, and we certainly weren’t going to harm it, so let’s hope that means good rains for the next few years!