It’s that time of the year again when impala rams seem to go slightly crazy. Driven by rising testosterone levels linked to shortening day length, rams are beginning to establish and defend territories and harems. What this means is that for 24 hours a day, one can hear strange grunts, snorts and roars across the landscape at Londolozi as rams chase one another about.
They do this to establish hierarchies amongst bachelor herds. Once a ram has separated off from a bachelor herd, it is then a challenge to stake out and defend a territory along with the herds of females within that territory. Severe fights can ensue between rams, sometimes even ending in death from the slip of a dagger-sharp horn. Ultimately though, the aim is to impregnate the ewes, who in six months time will drop lambs again, continuing the cycle of impala life.
The trouble for the rams is that they become so focused on trying to herd females and keep ownership of their territories that they become incredibly distracted. They spend less time eating and more time chasing each other; less time grooming themselves and more time thrashing their horns in bushes… They also seem to forget that they are top of the menu for the abundance of predators out here.
There are hundreds of impala spread across the open crests of Londolozi at present. I am not a betting man but if I was I would quite confidently say that if you take five herds at any one time, there is at least one leopard within a few hundred metres busy watching. Take for example the crests opposite the Londolozi camps up towards Ximpalapala koppie – a stretch of about two kilometres. In five game drives in a row, we saw a leopard on each one; four different individuals along that stretch. Every single sighting involved watching an attempt at hunting rutting impala rams!
On three different occasions, we saw the Makomsava female trying over and over to catch any unsuspecting impala. With her in mind, we set off one afternoon to see if she had any success throughout the day. We were surprised when a male leopard walked out next to us – it was the Flat Rock male. He walked a large semi-circle with the aim of approaching a herd of impala without being seen. We almost lost view of him as he lay flat in a small patch of grass on the edge of a game trail. It was almost scripted as within about five minutes, two impala rams came trotting along the path straight towards him! We held our breaths excitedly. The powerful male leopard launched out of the grass. He was within two metres of the impala, but missed the antelope!
What made the sighting even better was the fact that the same impala ram seemed to forget about the leopard and not even twenty minutes later, came running back in the same direction. The second time it took a slightly different path and managed to avoid running into the leopard. Probably just by chance.
So in three days and five consecutive game drives we saw: the Makomsava female, the Nhlanguleni female, the Flat Rock male, and the Xinzele female. None of the leopards were seen at the same time, but all were seen in the same area. Every one was within 50 metres of a rutting impala ram. There’s probably a leopard with a hoisted ram right now that is yet to be found…