One of the perks of being a trainee ranger is that in the latter stages of the training period you get the opportunity to go on game drives with qualified guides, shadowing them and effectively seeing how to take guests on a unique guided experience. Recently I had the privilege of joining Rob Jeffrey and wow, what an extraordinary time we had!
Our day started with tracking and finding the Ximungwe female and her year-old cub. It was still relatively cool so even though Rob was having to manoeuvre through a very dense Combretum thicket, we had a wonderful siting of these two leopards being active. The Ximungwe female zigzagged her way through the grass stalking scrub hares, while her cub followed in the playful and entertaining manner that only young and inquisitive leopards do.
After a short coffee break under the shade of a magnificent Jackalberry, expert tracker Judas told us that he had found more leopard tracks, possibly of two different leopards, crossing a dry riverbed.
Within two minutes of following the tracks Judas spotted a big male leopard lying under a thicket. As Rob switched off the ignition we could hear the male – which we quickly identified as the Inyathini male – letting out a low growl. This behaviour was strange as this male is not known to be perturbed by the vehicle’s presence and on top of this he wasn’t even looking at us. Giving the leopard more space Rob reversed, and as he did Judas spotted another leopard lying twenty metres away. It was the Senegal Bush male who has been seen on Londolozi frequently over the past few months.
The leopards were watching each other warily and it immediately became clear that they were challenging each other. The Senegal Bush male – the younger of the two – was firmly in the Inyathini male’s territory. Both males were salivating (a show of aggression) and the growling became louder as the Inyathini male started walking towards the Senegal Bush male.
The Senegal Bush male reacted by walking away but stayed relatively close to his adversary as they sized each other up. This is the primary way of establishing dominance and only if one male refuses to back down will there be an actual physical conflict. It seemed that the Inyathini male was slowly shepherding the Senegal Bush male out of his territory, but not without some resistance as the Senegal Bush male scraped his hind legs on several different occasions in what I can only put down to an act of scent-marking in defiance. Eventually the growling stopped and both males settled down in the long grass.
I left the sighting wondering how it would all play out over the next few weeks as the Senegal Bush male has just been successful in pushing the Inyathini male’s son, the Tortoise Pan male, out of his father’s territory and into the reserves west of Londolozi. Admittedly, the Tortoise Pan male is non-territorial and no match for the Senegal Bush male’s size and age, so taking on the Inyathini male is a different scenario altogether and an exciting show of the changing leopard dynamics on Londolozi at the moment. However, it seems that the Inyathini male has resisted his competitor’s advances for now.
Morning drive concluded with us going straight into watching the Springboks (South African rugby team) beat England in the final of the Rugby World Cup, which rocketed everyone into an ecstatic mood (except for the English guests who had to watch on with disappointment).
Just when I thought that my day could not get any better, my adrenaline was spiked yet again on afternoon drive when Rob found a mating pair of leopards (the Island female and Maxim’s male). This was a first for me and Rob’s guests, who were absolutely enthralled at the sight of these beautiful animals performing their rarely-seen mating ritual. We were able to view the female cajole the evidently tired male into mounting her and then end the copulation in a flurry of gargling and snarls on more than a few occasions.
A day filled with spectacular leopard sightings and the Springboks lifting the World Cup trophy will definitely go down as one of my best days in 2019. I look forward with hope that I am able to replicate similar experiences for my guests once I am qualified (although I’ll have to wait at least four years before the next World Cup final comes around…)