We were looking for leopards, just north of the Sand River.
Driving slowly along, we were suddenly surprised by a hyena scrambling quickly up from the River, running across our front, and moving quickly north towards the distant Ximpalapala Koppie.
Hyenas seldom move like that unless they are specifically responding to a scent or alarm calls, but we couldn’t hear anything, and it was a big block to try and follow the hyena through. We suspected that there might be a leopard somewhere to our north, maybe with a kill, maybe already robbed by other hyenas.
Just as we were deciding whether to follow or not, James Tyrrell radioed to say he could hear impala alarming consistently to the south of the Koppie, a sure sign that there was a predator there. The impalas were very unlikely to be alarming at a hyena, so we were even more convinced that a leopard was on the prowl.
The Ranger/Tracker Team work rather like a football squad; if one of us is otherwise engaged in a sighting but hear an alarm call or a distant vocalisation of a lion or leopard, we radio others to go and investigate, kind of like passing the bball to the wings to have them score the goal. As a team, you all win if something is found.
James was filming with the Tracker Academy at the time so wasn’t going to investigate the impalas alarming, but we moved into the area quickly, hoping for a lucky break.
Pausing briefly at the pan, we could still hear sporadic alarming coming from the block, so drove in, pretty confident we were going to find something. A few hyenas were milling around the base of a Jackalberry tree, and it was only a few seconds later that Tracker Life Sibuyi spotted the unmistakeable form of a leopard high in the branches, the legs of an impala carcass dangling below her.
The hyenas were waiting patiently the whole time we were there, but all they got was one or two tiny scraps, as the bulk of the carcass was firmly wedged in.
We waited with the leopard for awhile, and watched as she came and lay on a beautiful open branch, allowing us a better photo opportunity.
Eventually she came down and lay in the grass; possibly it was more comfortable down there than on the hard tree branch. Knowing what a great photographic opportunity it was to have a leopard with a kill in the tree we returned that evening, and were surprised to find not the Ingrid Dam female (who it was), but the Anderson male! He had most likely caught the scent of the kill during the day, and come in to rob the much smaller female.
I loved the fact that it was ultimately team-work that got us the sighting, and the piecing together of the clues to make more informed decisions.
Not to mention Life’s amazing eyesight.
The Ingrid Dam female has not been seen much of late. Hopefully the impalas give her away again next time, and the hyenas point us in the right direction…