Appreciating a good cup of coffee in the bush is a key component of any morning game drive. Every now and then though, we are forced to abandon our coffee, whether we like it or not.
This particular morning, we had already had a wonderful sighting of a pack of wild dogs that had gone to rest just off the Londolozi airstrip. We decided to stop along the banks of the Sand River, with beautiful views over the flowing water and the granite outcrops behind. As I poured the hot water over the aromatic coffee granules in the French press, we all noticed a herd of more than 50 impala fan out over the crest, sprinting for their lives. It could only be wild dogs, we thought. But they were supposed to be miles away…?
Movement in the brush line not far from us caught our attention. One wild dog had managed to catch up with an impala ram and was attempting to pull it down, alone. At this stage, our coffee was quickly dispatched. I grabbed my camera and tried to capture what we were witnessing as best I could. Within about three minutes, we were all back in the vehicle, coffee and snacks tossed onto the back row. No sooner had I switched the vehicle on and a second dog arrived to assist in the take down. The impala ran straight for our vehicle but was halted just metres away by the dogs. We were witnessing a hunt take place, metres from where we had just been standing.
The pair of dogs frantically began to feed, making almost no noise. Wild dogs will often lose their kills to hyena, who are normally attracted by the feeding sounds of a pack. The pair knew they were vulnerable without their companions, thus wolfed down as much meat as possible, constantly pausing to look up for any threats.
Out of nowhere, the Piccadilly female leopard appeared, watching the dogs feed. She must have been in the vicinity (yes – close to our coffee stop too!) and must have seen the dogs take down the impala. She carefully assessed the scene, making sure she was not at risk. She then made her move. She sprinted it with a harsh growl, sending the two dogs sprinting into the distance. In a calculated manner, the female leopard gripped the carcass with her teeth and scuttled straight towards the riverbank. She had successfully stolen the dogs’ kill!
The leopard was very nervous, stopping at least three times to look back ensuring that no dogs were coming back at her. We thought she would hoist it straight into a suitable tree, but she opted to hide it under a clump of thick bushes. She then started to feed. The dogs had now disappeared completely. We could not believe what had just unfolded in front of us!
With little to no view of the leopard, we decided to try and find a quiet corner for our coffee break. Ironically, we bumped into the entire dog pack, now on a mission. They were heading straight back to where the leopard had stolen the kill… Our second attempt at coffee had to wait.
Now with numbers on their side, the pack ran in and stole the impala kill back. The leopard fled up a nearby tree and watched as the group of dogs shared the impala between them.
After about 10-15 minutes, the pack slowly started to move away from the banks of the river, satisfied with the amount that they had consumed. We assumed the show was over. But we assumed wrong…
The dogs trotted away towards a little pool of water, which gave the leopard an opportunity to descend the tree. She then proceeded to steal the kill back again and hoist it into a tree!
Shortly after the leopard hoisted the kill, she quickly descended again. Watching a leopard climb up and down a tree twice was a real treat – something that one can often wait years to see!
Although our morning coffee was interrupted, this time it was for a worthy reason. What we witnessed will definitely remain high up in the memory bank for years to come!