We had a plan: to drive the Manyelethi River in the north, to enjoy the breath-taking views, riverine vegetation and biodiversity, with the ultimate hope of finding a leopard.
Silence drowned the start of the hot afternoon; not a bird chirp nor impala snort was herd until we began meandering the beautiful river. With the stillness around us our ears were well-tuned to the faintest sound that might arise, when suddenly a nyala alarm-called. Then a second, then a third. The distant chattering of a squirrel also began. Our attention was focused, as we sped up to where the nyalas were barking. Establishing which direction they were looking in, we drove that way, eyes straining to see what had got their attention.
Eventually, atop a termite mound we spotted a young female leopard; the now near-independent Ingrid Dam young female. She was completely undeterred by the nyalas, the squirrels and our presence as she rolled around the mound in a playful manner before falling fast asleep, out of sight and vehicle positioning accessibility.
After enjoying watching her for awhile and the built up excitement of having found her thanks to the alarm calls we slowly trundled off, enjoying more of what the Manyelethi Riverbed had to offer.
No more than a few hundred meters away, excitement spiked once more as a huge male leopard lay on top of a gigantic granite boulder. His sheer size gave his identification away from afar – the Anderson male leopard. We moved closer, positioning the vehicle for the best view and photographic opportunity. For many it’s an iconic dream to witness a beautiful leopard on a rock. The white and grey colouration of the granite intensifies the leopard’s rosettes and overall beauty.
Unofficially the biggest leopard in the Sabi Sands, the Anderson male is an absolutely enormous individual in north western Londolozi.
Out of nowhere two hyenas came running through the scene, disappearing behind a thick brush-pile and further granite boulders a little way down the riverbed. They were oblivious to the male leopard’s presence. We were still taking it all in when a second leopard appeared on the scene (the third of the drive so far) It was a younger, smaller male, cautiously sniffing the ground and walking back and forth. Clearly on the scent trail of something. But what? The pieces of the puzzle were there but the final picture was as yet unclear. What drew all these animals to this one part of the dry river? The Anderson male lifted his head, yet presented no signs of aggression while the younger male was still unaware of his presence.
Bones crunched behind the brush-pile and granite boulders; a hyena’s head peered over, drenched in blood. We quickly drove around to get a closer look. There lay a large, sub-adult male kudu carcass, and the hyenas were scoffing down as much of the fresh meat as they possibly could. How had this kudu died? Surely a leopard couldn’t have killed such a large kudu? On closer inspection the neck was bent back in a characteristic leopard suffocation fashion. The neck had puncture wounds from the two and a half inch canines. The puzzle began to be pieced together.
Alerted by the feeding activity, the now identifiable Thamba male leopard rushed over but was soon chased off by the aggressive hyenas. He turned back upstream before his body posture lowered as he and the Anderson male made eye contact.
Short, repetitive bursts of air came from the young male as he began chuffing at the Anderson male in a sign of close distance communication and identification, yet the large dominant male leopard showed no aggression or even interest in that matter. Had the Anderson male leopard mated with the Thamba male’s mother in the past? Did he possibly see the young male as one of his offspring? Or was there simply no threat in having a younger, less powerful male leopard investigating the scene? What communication was the chuffing indicating? It’s hard to pin-point fact and we can only speculate as to exactly what passed between them.
As darkness set in more hyenas appeared and the hierarchical squeals and screams were ear-piercing yet captivating. The sheer number of hyenas presented too much power and soon thereafter the Thamba male moved off in the direction he came from and the Anderson male left the scene in the opposite direction.
What an incredible experience. A true display of experiencing the unexpected and what hooks one to this life we share of safari.