Ranger Dean de la Rey had a very pleasant surprise when enjoying his morning cup of coffee from the Founders Camp deck recently.
The Marula tree that grows out of a small rocky outcrop just north of the camp looked slightly different in the half light of dawn, and peering through his binoculars, Dean could make out the shape of a bushbuck carcass hoisted in its scraggly branches. Scanning around the base of the tree, Dean soon picked out the outline of a leopard’s head; a female, judging by the small size.
Just then the light started strengthening, and the local monkey troop saw what Dean was already looking at. They immediately went wild at the sight of their mortal enemy, sounding their distinctive alarm calls, which prompted the leopard – as yet unidentified – to hastily make herself scarce in the Matumi thicket further out in the riverbed.
Leopards are a constant presence around the camp. Their tracks often tell of where they slunk through during the small hours, and the Camp managers see them from the deck more than once a week.
When they make kills and hoist them within sight of camp (the leopards hoist, not the camp managers), particularly near somewhere where there might be a lot of activity, we generally find that they won’t feed during the day. The human presence acts as a deterrent, and they will usually wait until darkness falls before returning to their kills.
Knowing this, we strongly suspected that whichever leopard had made this kill would slink back in come evening time and in all likelihood bring the kill down and re-hoist it somewhere else where she could feed in peace.
A couple of us made our way down to the Founders Camp deck towards sunset, and took our seats well back from the railings. And waited…
30 minutes later, just as the sun had dipped below the western horizon, the telltale flick of an ear in a reed-bed caught our attention, and suddenly, there she was.
Understandably nervous, as she had probably been watching people moving around on deck all day, she slowly moved closer to the boulders out of which the Marula was growing:
With enough light left, some fairly dense Matumi trees only about 50 metres away and no sign of hyenas, we presume the Nhlanguleni female managed to hoist her kill again in safety, and is possibly still feeding on it.
We didn’t see her cubs from the deck, but either they were staying out of sight, or she has abandoned them completely and they are now fully independent. We have been hearing many bushbucks alarms coming from the Sand River much further west of camp, which is where the cubs (or sub-adults as we should probably start referring to them) spent much of their youth being stashed by their mother. Most likely it is the young females still hanging around that the bushbuck keep bumping into, about to launch into their own lives.
With three of the Nhanguleni leopards now roaming the river and its banks towards the western side of Londolozi, we seem well-set for some fantastic leopard viewing in the upcoming months.