It’s always amazing when you pick up a set of guests who are absolute leopard enthusiasts, and it’s even better when they follow our blog religiously and are familiar with some of the famous leopards of Londolozi. What it does mean is a bit of added pressure – the guests’ expectation is that when they come to stay with us, they will actually be able to see these leopards in real life, not just on their laptop or mobile screen!
After an abundant rainy season, the vegetation is often a little denser, grass chest-high in some areas and not necessarily that conducive to spotting leopards. Shortly after a bout of rain is great for tracking leopards as the old tracks have been washed away and new tracks are easier to see and follow. But as things begin to dry out after some rain the ground hardens up, making tracking very difficult and the dense grass and surrounding vegetation provide ample hiding places for them. These elusive animals can simply remain concealed and hidden that much easier!
Initially seen as a young male in 2016, this leopard only properly established territory on Londolozi in mid-2019
Tracker Trevor Makukule and I had a plan going into our third and final afternoon drive with a set of guests – to find the Senegal Bush Male! This male’s movements are generally quite predictive as he has an established territory on central and east Londolozi. We went straight into the middle of his domain to look for any tracks or signs of him. After a short, while driving a few roads, Trevor managed to see some tracks on the road. The two of us hopped off the vehicle in order to have a closer look, they were male leopard tracks and most likely belonged to the Senegal Bush Male.
It was in the moment when we were off the vehicle assessing the tracks and there was no drone of the diesel engine that we could listen out for any alarm calls. And it was just then that we heard a kudu alarm calling, not too far from us. Kudus don’t lie! We jumped straight back into the vehicle and made our way hastily in the direction of where we thought the kudu might be, as this might lead us to the leopard we had been looking for.
Once we had arrived in the area in which we thought the kudu might be we switched the vehicle off to listen for any more clues. Sure enough, a couple of minutes later, a squirrel started alarm calling about 100m away from us. Squirrel alarm calls vary greatly and are not the most reliable, however, the franticness of this squirrel’s alarm call indicated that it surely must have seen him!
We drove down a road that led us closer to where the squirrel was calling from and on the road beneath the squirrel were more leopard tracks. You can only begin to imagine the excitement building in the vehicle! The tracks cut off the road and so Trevor and I got off of the vehicle and attempted to follow the tracks. The substrate was hard and not conducive to leaving clear, defined footprints for us to follow, making it incredibly difficult.
After tracking on foot for 10 or 15 minutes we decided to return to the vehicle as we had no further sign of the leopard. Feeling slightly deflated and in the middle of telling my guests that we had no further luck in our search, in comes a transmission from the radio, the Senegal Bush Male had just been found. Success! The leopard had been found!
The humorous thing in hindsight is that the squirrel had sent us in the wrong direction. Had we continued on our original trajectory and not turned down that road towards it, after about 40m we would have bumped into the leopard. Although it wasn’t us that found him, at the end of the day it is a team effort and working in an area with other rangers and trackers adds an element of excitement and camaraderie when an animal is actually found.
We ended up having an amazing sighting, watching him walk past us demarcating his territory by scent marking and vocalising, all this whilst the sun was slowly sinking in the distance beneath the Drakensberg mountains. It just goes to show that sometimes the search and build up to finding an animal is almost, if not just as, exciting as finding the animal itself. Next time I’ll think twice before following a squirrel alarm call!