Witnessing something packed with action, that’s jaw dropping and puts you on the edge of your seat while out on safari doesn’t happen quite as often as pictures might convey. It can either be a case of right place at the right time or it can be a culmination of understanding animal behaviour, movements and patience. But in all honesty there is a large portion of luck involved as well.
Patience, perseverance and a little bit of prediction was on our side one early, lucky morning. We left camp in search of any sign of leopards in the northern parts of Londolozi. We were fortunate, as before too long a young male leopard (the Hosana male) was found making his way towards a pan (small temporary waterhole) he had previously been spending a fair amount of time at.
The Hosana Male arrived in mid-2018 and is now dominant over Othawa, rarely seen on Londolozi's western boundary.
As he approached the pan his body posture lowered and he slunk around the edge of the water. Behind us we realized there was a herd of impala. Was he interested in hunting or was he looking at quenching his thirst out of sight of the grazing antelope? When he walked past every drinking opportunity and nestled up in a thick bush only meters from the most used and freshest water point, we had a good idea as to what his intentions might be.
We drove around the pan in search of a shaded spot where we could keep cool and see every animal approaching the water, as well as the bush the leopard lay low in. We got comfortable and enjoyed a lovely packed breakfast while talking about possibilities. Distance was kept from the pan as not to disturb impala nor leopard, yet allowing us a clear enough view of what could potentially unfold.
A large giraffe bull approached, yet it never saw the leopard lying low. It quenched its thirst and moved off. A herd of wildebeest as well as zebra tentatively approached the water thereafter, seeking to quench their thirsts as the sun heated the land. With a number of animals drinking we presumed the impala would deem it safe to do the same and they wandered down for a drink.
They were very nervous in their approach. Had they experienced an ambush in this exact place before? Could they smell the leopard crouched low ready to pounce?
After a number of spooked attempts they eventually committed to the pan. Our cameras were lifted and ready as we set focus and shutter speeds on the drinking impala. Fingers were ready to capture any bit of energy exploding from the bush. As the impala gathered en masse and sucked up the water, the now peaceful scene exploded in a blink of an eye.
The young male leopard burst out, tearing towards the impala; one impala in panic dashed for the muddied pan and the leopard followed. Covered in water, with paws bogged down in the mud, his pace slowed and the impala ran for its life. The leopard scampered out of the pan and slunk away, right past our vehicle, as the impala gathered in a tight group, alarm calling.
He had missed! So many impala right at his claw tips yet he was unsuccessful. A few meters away he settled down, grooming his muddied coat before slipping out of sight.
This entire experience lasted a near two hours. It was a culmination of patience, calculation and luck. Although fingers remain crossed, it’s a scene I’m unlikely to see anytime soon and one I had the fortune of being able to capture, to relive and retell over and over again.