The Flat Rock male has been rather scarce of late.
We suspect that he was partly stranded north of the Sand River which until a few days ago would have been difficult for him to cross, given the high water levels.
During this time we even began to see the likes of the Senegal Bush male and the Maxim’s male advancing into what we largely consider to be the Flat Rock male’s territory. However, towards the end of this last week he was eventually found again, south of the river. After a tension-filled encounter with the Senegal Bush male quite close to camp, we knew that he was back and defending the southern portion of his territory once again.
During the course of the a recent rainy morning, our habitat team stumbled upon this large male leopard as he was marching down the road. With a break in the rain that afternoon, a group of us decided to head out and see if we could find him again.
Luckily, by the time we left camp, he had already been found by Jess Shillaw who was out with her guests. As we arrived at the sighting, we found him to be lying down on a termite mound close to Jess’ Land Rover. A few moments passed and he slowly stood up, walked down the mound and began scent marking on every second Guarrie bush that he passed.
The Flat Rock male is renowned for providing us with exceptional viewing. His relaxed temperament and calm nature around the vehicles allows us to follow him with ease and watch him go about his activities as if we weren’t even there.
This afternoon was no different and all of us sat in silence as he strolled past, barely a meter away from the vehicle, the soft crunch of his paws hitting the damp, sandy ground alongside us.
A few minutes later, a young impala lamb skipped across the road just in front of the him. Immediately his body language changed as he now saw an opportunity for a meal. The impala, which hadn’t seemed to have noticed the leopard yet, seemed to be alone and slightly injured; an ideal target for the Flat Rock male, who had now dropped low to the ground to and was using the long grass to his advantage. As he gradually stalked closer, the impala, possibly alerted by scent, sprung its head up and began scanning the surroundings. We sat there for nearly fifteen minutes waiting for the stalemate to break. Eventually the impala began to relax again, dropping its head back down to the ground. The Flat Rock male started to capitalise on this and edged closer in short, sharp bursts through the grass while still keeping his body low to the ground.
With the leopard now just a few feet away from the impala, we all held our collective breaths in anticipation of him launching himself towards his prey. Just as we thought the time was right, the impala threw its head up again and a second later bolted off. The leopard gave chase for a few meters but the impala’s millisecond head-start gave it the break it needed to escape certain death.
A visibly disappointed Flat Rock male now stood watching the impala scamper up the adjacent crest. He took a moment to gather his thoughts and strolled back up onto a termite mound where he lay down again. The hunting success rate of leopard – and most predators at that – is not very high and it’s moments like these in which you see firstly how opportunistic they have to be and secondly what hard work, patience and luck is required for a successful hunt.