It was still dark when ranger Chris Taylor and I met in the Ranger’s Room.
Over a cup of coffee we decided on a plan. Our mission was simple; attempt to find either a lion or leopard close to camp.
As we set off, the sun was just rising and we stopped up on a crest to appreciate this daily spectacle. Turning off the Land Rover would give us a chance of hearing impalas alarm calling or lions roaring in the distance.
The next minute we did hear something, although the sound wasn’t what we expected – crackling through the radio’s speaker was the voice of ranger Pat Grealy, announcing that he had found one of the Birmingham male lions with a kill.
Chris and I jumped back onto the vehicle and promptly made our way in the direction of the male lion. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a spectacular sight – a huge male lion standing over his kill, bathed in the early morning light. As we sat there we speculated as to whether this male had made the kill (an adult wildebeest) himself or if he had stolen it from other lions.
Before we even had time to finalise our hypotheses, we were interrupted by a cacophony of impala alarm calls behind us. The male lion stared intently in the direction of the calls but he seemed reluctant to leave his kill. We squinted into the sun to see what all the fuss was about and to our surprise a young male leopard emerged from the golden glow, oblivious of what was going on ahead of him.
No sooner had we seen the leopard than it was off in the opposite direction. I cannot say for sure if the leopard saw the male lion or if his senses somehow informed him that he was walking in a dangerous direction; either way, he made a break for the thicket and we lost sight of him. While all this commotion was happening behind us, the male lion stood up in order to get a better view of what was unfolding. Similarly, I am unsure whether or not the lion saw the leopard but it seemed as though the lion would prefer to guard his meal rather than race off to chase the mystery animal who had disturbed the impalas.
Soon after the leopard had exited the scene both the lion and the impalas relaxed. The Birmingham male returned to his kill but before he had even had a chance to settle his attention was directed towards the sound of intense growling a few hundred meters away. Chris and I decided to investigate and after a few minutes of searching, we uncovered another surprise, three Ntsevu lionesses were squabbling over the remains of another kill. We couldn’t believe our good fortune and barely had time do appreciate the moment before the lionesses began moving up the hill in the direction of the male.
In the end the lionesses settled up at a safe distance from the male and stared longingly at his meal. At this point the morning was beginning to warm up and we decided to leave the lions to rest after a successful night of hunting. As we wound our way down the hill in the direction of camp there was one last surprise in store. The mystery leopard from earlier was walking through the clearing ahead of us. We raced to catch up with him and were able to get a view of the young male before he disappeared. The leopard in question turned out to be the Tavangumi Male. Fortunately for this nomadic young leopard, he managed avoid a meeting with a big male lion which could have ended badly. In a morning of surprises, I think the Tavangumi Male was the most surprised of all us to find himself in a sea of lions but fortunately he managed to escape unscathed with an invaluable lesson learned in the process.