Early one morning we set off in the hopes of finding a leopard and we got a little more than we bargained for.
The morning started off with tracker Freddy Ngobeni signaling to me to stop. He had found fresh tracks of a leopard that seemed to have been dragging something across the road. As Freddy hopped off his perch on the front of the vehicle to have a closer look, one of my guests impressively spotted a leopard in a tree that quickly descended and ran off into the bushes. Amidst all the excitement, Freddy quickly jumped back into the vehicle and we drove towards where the leopard had run.
Unfortunately, we did not see it again. With the brief glimpse we had, we were able to make out that it was a male just based on the sheer size – it was a big leopard. We moved in a bit closer and noticed that there was an impala kill hoisted in the tree from which he had descended from. Given the area that we were in and how skittish this male leopard was, we could quite easily narrow it down to most likely being the Maxims Male leopard. He is generally quite elusive and does tend to shy away from vehicles, so much so that we have very few photos of him. Knowing this we decided that our best chance of seeing him again was to give him a bit of time to relax and potentially return to his kill. With this in mind, we left the area with the plan of returning a bit later to see if he had returned.
Continuing on a bit further afield it was not long until Freddy had signaled me to stop again.
More leopard tracks!
He pointed out tracks of a female leopard and her two cubs, the Ndzanzeni Female. After a few minutes of assessing the tracks, Freddy could see that only the mother’s tracks continued down the road from where we were now parked, suggesting that maybe she had left her cubs nearby.
Just as I was turning the vehicle around to go back and have another look, one of the cubs gave itself away by peeking its head through the long grass. As you can imagine we were all extremely excited about this find! Knowing that the mother was not around, we thought we would wait for a short while only, as we did not want to put any unnecessary pressure on the little cubs or draw any attention to them. We appreciated a brief but extremely special moment with the cubs before continuing with our original plan, which was to head in the direction of the Maxims Male leopard.
Arriving back at where the hoisted impala was, we could not see any sign of the Maxims Male leopard. We hoped that by parking a little distance away, we would allow him to eventually make a return to his carcass. We waited for quite some time… Just as we were about to leave, a few impalas began alarming close by. Thinking it could be the leopard coming back to the tree to feed, we drove around to see if it was indeed him that the impalas were alarming at.
There he was! He was making his way back to his kill.
As soon as he realized that he had been spotted he dashed into a small thicket, leaving us with yet again just a glimpse. Blending in so well with his surroundings, we could only see a few of his rosettes at this stage. Even though it was such a brief view of him, it was rewarding nonetheless.
Fairly skittish male that is presumed to have come from the Kruger National Park.
After some exciting leopard sightings, we were pretty impressed with what the morning provided us. Little did we know it was about to get better. I had just got word that two other rangers had found another male leopard, the Nweti Male. It sounded like he had found the scent of the Maxims Male leopard’s kill and was heading directly our way. Before we knew it, he arrived on the scene with the Maxims Male leopard still nowhere to be seen. He stopped briefly at the base of the tree where the kill was hoisted. Wasting no time, the Nweti Male leopard leaped right up into the tree, picked the kill up in his mouth, and carried it back down to the ground. He walked off with it proudly in his mouth. We could not believe our luck as he dragged it along the road for quite some time until he settled in a thicket and started feeding.
After watching him feed for a while we decided to leave him and go have a hot coffee and reflect on how this truly was a morning we will never forget. As I think back I wonder what would have happened had the Maxims Male still been up the tree. Would the Nweti Male have still been so confident and tried to steal the kill or would he have backed down to avoid any confrontation and the risk of injury?