The Nkoveni young female had hoisted an impala ewe into a Marula and had been feeding on it for two days. She was very well-fed as a result, so when Ranger Mrisho Lugenge radioed in that she was now stalking an impala, we didn’t get overly excited, as a leopard’s hunting effort tends to be directly correlated with its hunger.
When Mrisho then said it was an impala lamb the leopard was after, we moved in a bit faster, realising something might actually come of this…
The scene unfolded on an open crest. Although the grass has sprung up all over the reserve and the green carpet is everywhere, this particular area was still only exhibiting a short growth, and the whole stalk by the leopard had to take place with practically no cover. The extra difficulty for the leopard nevertheless afforded us the unique opportunity of watching a leopard stalk from start to finish, with constant view of both prey and predator.
The Nkoveni young female made herself as flat as possible, dropping her white tail tip as she moved ever closer to the impala lamb. Unusually, the lamb was on its own, which made us strongly suspect that it was its mother that the leopard had killed two days prior.
A squirrel suddenly emerged from its hole and upon seeing the leopard, immediately set up an incessant chattering. This may well have unnerved the Nkoveni young female and put the impala lamb on the alert somewhat.
A stalking leopard is the epitome of patience and poise. For minutes at a time, the leopard would remain absolutely motionless, flattened to the ground. After a while, the impala lamb’s suspicions would lower and it even started approaching the leopard. It thought it had seen something, but couldn’t be sure.
Our vehicle – consisting mainly of staff – sat transfixed, cameras up, ready for what we assumed was the inevitable takedown.
When suddenly, the impala lamb trotted by within a few feet of the Nkoveni young female, and the leopard did… nothing…
She simply watched as the lamb moved off to beyond the pounce/chase range, and the hunt was over.
The leopard moved around the crest for a bit, approaching one or two other impala herds, but nothing came of it, and we left her in the failing light. What happened to the impala lamb after this we don’t actually know. As mentioned earlier, we presume it was on its own because the leopard had most likely killed its mother, but we can’t say for sure.
The bush is an unforgiving place, and the chances of a few-days old impala surviving without its mother are, well… slim to none. Depends how badly you want to believe in happy endings…