We set out to look for the Tortoise pan male and – after a great suggestion on a hot day by tracker Ray Mabilane to drive past a few waterholes that fall within the leopard’s territory – it wasn’t long till we found him lying under a shady Guarrie bush right next to Tortoise Pan itself.
All around him was a beautiful herd of elephants. Knowing the leopard was resting and not going anywhere soon we decided to go and watch the elephants graze and browse as they departed from the pan. We sat with one particular young male trying to dig up the roots of a tree for about 30 minutes, eventually leaving him as he left, picking up the speed to catch up to the rest of the herd.
After the entertainment of the elephants, my guests and I had almost forgotten we had seen a leopard about 200m away!
We headed back to the pan only to find the male flat out and fast asleep.
I suggested we loop around to see if we could maybe get a better view of his face. Upon doing this, another large herd of elephants approached the pan; they provided us with the special moments of a herd drinking and playing in the water. After quite some time they too decided to move on, passing the vehicle and reminding us how lucky we are that such a large animal can allow us to be so close and give us the feeling of presence.
After feeling rather moved by the experiences the herds had provided, we once again had to remind ourselves how we got here in the first place. The leopard.
So I continued with the plan of looping around the pan and it wasn’t long before I got gripped on the shoulder by tracker Ray, as if to say stop right now and I heard the guest say “He is up!”. I switched the ignition off immediately after shortly spotting the grey duiker approaching the pan.
Within a matter of seconds, the Tortoise pan male went from completely head down to up, stalking and gave chase. The duiker was about 10 meters away from him and not even 10 meters away from us. Ray confidently turned around and said, “We are going to see a kill…” and before the words could even come out his mouth the leopard had hurtled down upon the unsuspecting duiker, gripping it by the throat. There was little to no sound as it happened so quickly. When I say no sound, I think my guests got more of a fright from my excitement.
He dragged the duiker into the nearby thicket and headed towards the nearby Maxabene river bed. Unable to get through the line of Tamboti trees, we had to loop around, which gave us all a moment to take in what had happened and the vehicle exploded into large celebrations and many fist pumps in the air.
We managed to find him again as he was pausing for a moment, dropping the kill, scanning the trees around for a good place to hoist. It had to be the large Jackalberry not far from where he was. With just enough time to get up the banks we watched him hoist the kill into the tree and place it on a thick stable branch.
Hungry after recently having had a kill stolen by another male, he wasted no time in plucking the fur out and feeding on the rump. We sat there for most of the evening watching, observing and appreciating. We were all in awe; actually I am still in awe!
Watching a hunt – a successful hunt – is not common. Seeing it in plain sight is even more rare. Its moments like these that ignite passions for this place, and longing to see it again keeps you wanting more. From the presence of the elephants to the extreme excitement of the kill, I can’t remember a more extreme drive in recent months!