This winter has been slightly different to the norm here at Londolozi. Usually, by the time we approach the winter solstice, the grass has already taken on its tawny shade of winter and the leaves of trees have started to shed their leaves. However, we’ve had unseasonal bouts of rain which have kept the water table high and there’s still a considerable amount of moisture in the air. What this means is we’ve had misty mornings as the cooling air cannot hold onto all this moisture. This is precisely how our morning drive crossing the sand river started.
Tracker Tsehpo Dzemba and I came up with our plan of exploring the northern stretches of the reserve while enjoying a cup of hot coffee on the Varty Camp deck. The river road that runs all the way along the northern bank of the Sand River is very often a hotspot for leopards as well as the lone lioness of the Tsalala Pride. Tshepo had told me that he had had a dream about an epic sighting in the north but couldn’t recall any clear details about it. Sometimes out in the bush, you need to trust your gut feel (or Tshepo’s in this case) and just go with it, no questions asked.
Soon after we crossed the river we found tracks of the Tsalala Female on the aforementioned river road and knew they were from early that morning. Ranger Shadrack Mhkabela had just crossed the river at a different crossing point exactly where the tracks were heading. Within a few minutes of us following the tracks and a few helpful squirrel alarm calls, we had found the Tsalala female in a clearing full of early morning mist.
We hadn’t been with her for long before she got up and walked with purpose towards a thick Combretum thicket. As she got to the thicket line her nose was down to the ground clearly picking up on the scent of something. She moved with haste from one spot to the next slowly building momentum as we tried to stay close enough to not lose her. All of a sudden she started running and we lost sight of her but up ahead of us we heard the commotion of a clan of hyenas, squabbling over a meal. As we ducked and dived through the thick bush Tshepo shrieked with excitement,
Leopard, leopard, in the tree!
Initially seen as a young male in 2016, this leopard only properly established territory on Londolozi in mid-2019
Up in the tree was the Senegal Bush Male with the last remains of an impala ram kill. At the base were at least seven hyenas fighting over some scraps that must’ve dropped as he had been feeding. The Tsalala Female rushed in and the hyenas noisily scattered in different directions. I turned to my guests and said,
“She’s going to climb the tree to try and steal what’s left of the kill.”
Lions aren’t usually the most adept climbers but they are certainly capable of climbing up a tree. Especially if they feel they could get a free meal. I’ve personally seen the Tsalala Female climb trees on numerous occasions even without the temptation of a free meal and so I was certain the temptation would get the best of her. She scaled the vertical trunk of the marula with ease. As she approached the Senegal Bush Male there was an almighty cacophony of growling and snarling by the lioness and leopard only to be followed by the laughing of the lucky hyenas below as the leopard’s kill dropped from the tree the hyenas ran off with the remains.
With no more meat left in the tree, the Tsalala Female clumsily descended the tree with no further altercation between the two arboreal predators. On this occasion, the Senegal Bush Male certainly got the lion’s share of the kill with the hyenas getting the scraps and the Tsalala female left empty-handed but at least she was injury-free. As bystanders of it all playing out in front of us we certainly weren’t left feeling empty-handed after experiencing an incredible scene!