Linking the pieces of a puzzle together successfully in a track-and-find effort is rewarding, and enormous fun into the bargain. It’s not uncommon though to have that satisfaction of finding an animal completely eclipsed by the wild excitement of the sighting it provides.
Ranger Sean Zeederberg and tracker Joy Mathebula had just such an afternoon recently. Sean takes us through what happened:
“We had been tracking the Ximungwe female leopard through thick bush for most of the afternoon, when towards sunset ranger Alfie Mathebula radioed in that he could hear monkeys alarming along the Maxabene Riverbed just ahead of where we were tracking. We knew it must be her.
As we quickly moved back to our vehicle to head towards where the monkeys were kicking up a fuss, Alfie moved ahead of us and reported that he had found the leopard drinking at a waterhole. Thrilled to be able to show her to our guests, we sped there and had a great view of her in the open.
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
She moved into a thick Tamboti grove, and we were just preparing to leave her be when she suddenly perked up her ears in instant alertness, and then took off like a rocket. Swinging our heads around we saw a female impala racing straight in our direction, and the outcome was inevitable from there. The leopard hit the impala so hard that she broke its neck with the impact, but even as she began dragging the carcass towards a tree to hoist it into, a lone wild dog came running out of the bushes from the same direction the impala had appeared from.
Both cat and dog got a fright; the Ximungwe female recognised the danger the wild dog posed, and immediately dropped the carcass and fled. The wild dog meanwhile didn’t quite know what was happening, and just saw an indistinct spotted from in the bushes with the impala carcass, so also turned and ran.
All was silent as both predators had run off.
Eventually the wild dog, being the original pursuer, came carefully in to investigate. Not finding a rival predator, it dragged the impala carcass off a little way and began feeding. After some minutes the Ximungwe female also came slinking back, and watched the wild dog feeding for awhile. One could see that the wild dog was nervous, as she kept darting away and then hesitantly returning to the kill, and it was during just such a break from feeding that the Ximungwe female seized her opportunity, rushing in, grabbing what was left of the carcass and immediately hoisting it into a tree nearby.
The next morning the carcass was gone, most likely dropped by the leopard and stolen by hyenas. At least she’d been able to capitalise on the opportunity granted her.