The beauty of being in the bush is that you never really know what you are going to see. Sometimes you see everything, and sometimes there is less around and this gives you an opportunity to really take all the stunning scenery around you. Then there are times when you set off with a specific goal and nature just has another plan for you. That was the case when Rangers Matthew Rochford, Kelsey Clark and myself set off for a walk one afternoon.
Our plan was to go for walk and explore the area around Ximpalapala Koppie (a rocky outcrop in the northern parts of the reserve). Shortly after beginning our walk, we had not even walked 100 meters away from the vehicle when in the distance we heard a faint growl followed by what sounded like a high-pitched squeal of a hyena. There was a steady breeze blowing at the time, so we knew that the sound had been carried by the wind and was probably a little further than it sounded on the other side of the koppie. We immediately turned around and headed back towards the vehicle to go and investigate what all the commotion was about.
Coming around the corner to where we thought the sound was coming from, we were very surprised to find a flock of Southern Ground Hornbills.
While we were sitting there, still a bit confused but amazed at the Ground Hornbills’ ability to catch something that size, we heard hyenas calling nearby. There was something more going on, another kill of some sort somewhere for sure and it wasn’t just the unfortunate scrub hare. The coincidence of the hornbills being where they were at that time and with a scrub hare will always amaze me.
Almost immediately as we turned to head in the direction of the hyenas we saw a vulture landing in a tree not far from where the hornbills had been. As we got closer we saw a leopard dash off from a termite mound into the long grass. Close by a few hyenas were finishing off the remains of an impala kill that he must have dropped from a tree growing out of the termite mound from which he ran.
Eager to see which leopard it was, we drove around to try to get another view. Unfortunately for us, we struggled, it must have been a new young male to the area that was a little bit skittish. Knowing our chances of seeing him properly were slim, we returned back to the hyenas. That is when we saw the Flat Rock Male.
A dominant male leopard over the majority of the north. He originally took over the 4:4 Male's territory when he died.
This for sure wasn’t the male we had seen earlier. The one we saw was smaller and hidden well in the long grass. The Flat Rock Male must have been close by and in hearing all the commotion he came to investigate. Approaching the feasting hyenas, he stopped a little distance away from them realizing that his odds of stealing the kill from them were next to nothing. Instead, he picked up on the scent of the young male and climbed up into a nearby tree (the tree from which we think the young male leopard had dropped his kill) and sniffed around where we can only imagine was the start of all the chaos.
We followed the Flat Rock Male for a short while after he descended the tree, not having a clear scent of the young male, he moved off further east until eventually, he disappeared into the long grass.
After all this excitement we decided to finish off our original plan of exploring the koppie, by simply climbing it to watch the sunset, which was the perfect end to a surprisingly thrilling afternoon.