Without the full compliment of staff at the lodge, the village is a much quieter place. Most animals avoid humans, but since there are fewer of us around, it feels as though there are much higher levels of animal traffic through camp.
My accommodation sits right at the back of the village and I am fortunate to have a view looking down into a drainage line with some thicker vegetation, which has seemed like a predator highway. On a daily basis we hear alarm calls from bushbuck, nyala and impala and often run out onto the lawn to hopefully catch a glimpse of whichever leopard it might be.
We don’t always see the actual leopards, but know that they have been around.
On a number of mornings there have been fresh tracks around the offices in the heart of the camp, through the car parks and along the camp road.
Then there are the times when we do see them, mostly at night.
However, while we were all out on morning drive recently, we got a radio call from camp. “A leopard has killed a bushbuck 15m from Dave Varty’s office door.” A few staff members heard the initial hit and alarm calls so ran out to see what was going on. It turned out to be the Ximungwe young male and at the same time the Ximungwe female was seen on the other side of camp and walked right through to join her son, who at this point had run off towards the waterhole near camp to avoid all the people and commotion around the offices.
Without the leopards around, the kill was dragged out of camp so they could enjoy it in peace.
Although their rooms are not as isolated as mine on the outside of camp, some other staff recently had an even more intimate encounter with a leoaprd…
Early one evening, ranger Pete Thorpe heard what sounded like someone being sick and walked out to find the Finfoot female in the process of strangling a bushbuck no further than five metres from James Tyrrell’s front door. He immediately called Greg Pingo and James, his neighbours – who came running out to see the bushbuck still struggling to get away.
Once the leopard had dispatched it she dragged it across to a buffalo thorn tree a few meters away into which she hoisted it barely a minute later. Not only had the three seen a leopard kill on foot outside their houses, they were also there to watch her drag it into a tree from their back verandah.
The next morning, we could see that she had been feeding on the kill throughout the night but come sunrise she was nowhere to be found. Knowing there were people around she most likely went down into the river in front of camp to rest for the day. She returned that night and fed but was gone again by sunrise. This carried on for four days. As this kill was hoisted into a tree and a bit further away from the busyness around the office, we left it as it was. Being cautious and avoiding the area as much a possible allowed her to keep returning to feed when she was comfortable.
I am sure that more of these events are likely to happen, although maybe not as close and amazing as what Pete, James and Greg got to witness.
After all we humans are the real guests here.
This is the animals; domain and they continue with life no matter what is happening in the outside world.
With it being quieter in camp the animals feel more comfortable and are allowed the freedom to do as they would anywhere else on the reserve.