In the north of Londolozi, the Manyelethi River snakes through granite crests and rocky outcrops, its banks draped in the shade of towering Jackalberry trees. The river only flows occasionally, most often during big floods, and surface water is a rare thing along its course, particularly in the winter. At one or two spots there are permanent pools, and it is to these that the local wildlife flocks; elephants in particular, who dig holes in the sand to access the cleaner subterranean water rather than drink the dirtier liquid in the stagnant pools themselves.
One particular pool in the northern reaches of the Manyelethi is flanked by large boulders, worn smooth by countless centuries of flowing water. Tracks in the sand around this pool are testament to just how much use it gets during the dry season, with impala, nyala, buffalo, giraffe, kudu, bushbuck and a myriad other species coming daily to slake their thirsts.
It is the predators, however, that sometimes get the most value from this pool. Knowing that it attracts the herbivores and is flanked by dense vegetation the riverbanks, the place is a regular haunt for some of the local leopards in particular.
Recently we were fortunate to enjoy two different predator sightings only two days apart, with both cats lying in almost the same place on the same rock.
The first was the lone Tsalala female, tracked one afternoon by Elmon Mhlongo to the main boulder.
We waited with her for most of the afternoon, hoping – as I imagine she was – that some unsuspecting antelopes might make their way down to drink. Although lying in the open on the boulder (nice and cool in the warmer hours of the day) would leave the lioness relatively visible, it would be a simple matter for her to simply slip over the back if she saw anything coming.
Nothing came however, and the lioness moved off as night fell to hunt in darkness.
Less than 48 hours later, sharp-eyed tracker Euce Madonsela’s hand suddenly flicked up as we drove past the pool, up on the river bank. He asked me to reverse as he was sure he’d seen a big cat lying on the same rock, but with only a fleeting glimpse he wasn’t sure. Backing up down the road, we too made out the distinctive head pattern of what turned out to be a leopard, lying in the shade of a small Jackalberry tree growing out of the rock.
As we drove down into the river for a better view, we recognised her as the Makomsava female, the only surviving cub of the Nanga female leopard.
She was lying probably 10 metres from where the lioness had been lying only a short while before. The two pictures are from slightly different angles, but one can recognise the small Jackalberry tree on the left of both photos.
The Nanga female was born to the Nyelethi 4:4 female in 2009 as part of a litter of three.
Seeing these two cats in the same setting at pretty much the same time of day, only a few game drives apart, got me thinking about just how much repetition there is in nature through the years. Not so much repetition, but similar events playing out, that our human lives and time frames only ever get the merest glimpses of. How many other lions and leopards have lain on these same boulders? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands?
If you think that the rocks themselves have probably been exposed for a few thousand years, were are talking about well over 356 000 days. If a big cat visited the pool once every two weeks (which is probably an underestimation), we’re looking at over 26 000 visits over the course of a thousand years! That’s quite a large number. And this is just one pool. There are many thousands of pools all over the Kruger National Park and other Game Reserves in Africa. Oh the things they must have seen!
I don’t know where I’m going with this, but I guess I wanted to draw attention to the scope of Africa’s incredible wildlife heritage. I love the fact that one small pool in Londolozi can be the setting of so much over the years, the vast majority of which goes unseen by human eyes. Each leopard here has a story. Each lion has a story. But the beauty of it all is that the game trails they walk down, the dusty paths they follow and the seemingly insignificant pools they drink at, all have stories too. And every so often if we are lucky enough, we get to watch a chapter being written.