The day started with no real plan. We’d had a couple of really fun and beautiful sightings and now was an afternoon to see where the wind would blow us.
It would not be far.
No sooner had we left camp than we saw another vehicle’s passengers all staring into a nearby waterhole. Curious, we investigated and were excited to see a reptilian head slowly emerge from the still water.
“That crocodile’s got something!”
We positioned ourselves nice and close to the shore to watch this spectacle unfold. The next 30 minutes were spent enthralled as first the crocodile eviscerated its hoofed victim, death rolling to tear the organs free and then raising its entire head out of the water to throw the pieces deeper into its mouth before moving onto the rest of the body. It was a sighting that definitely fell into the “morbidly fascinating” category and kept us entertained for some time as to how a crocodile processes a carcass.
But more importantly, it allowed for us to be in the right place at the right time as a female leopard, the Nkuwa Female no less (a female we don’t often see) came strolling past! One has to wonder if the female had been sitting there watching the crocodile the whole time; that had perhaps stolen her meal after her hunt had chased the impala into the water. But that unanswerable question could wait,
We had to stay with her!
The two vehicles frantically tried to reposition as the female sauntered out of view. Manoeuvring up the bank away from the waterhole’s edge we caught sight of her just as she entered into a thicket line heading toward the river. My heart was in my throat. This could be something exceptional: a leopard crossing water is one of those hallowed shots that any photographer would absolutely love to get. Whether capturing the oncoming animal lazily padding through the shallows or a profile shot of a massive leap across a narrow channel. A leopard (or really any predator) crossing a body of water can make for magic.
So we stuck with her as best we could for a time, really just trying to gauge her exact heading. Once that was established, we looped around ahead to position ourselves in the middle of the Sand River. We made sure our camera settings were where we wanted them, and double-checked the angles. Finally, we accepted that we had everything as best we could have it, and we settled in for the wait.
The classic unfolding of events then occurred; breathless anticipation slowly faded into a more calm appreciation of where exactly we were – the middle of a river. The lowering sun at our backs bathing the scene in soft golden light. Settling into a contented, comfortable stillness with the two vehicles chit-chatting about nothing in particular while time flowed on around us. The binoculars came up and we spent the next hour twitching with the best of them, trying to get a bead on each and every feathered flash of colour and just admiring the scene surrounding us.
And then something beautiful happened; a massive herd of elephants came walking down the path directly toward us. With the herd and what appeared to be the matriarch obviously relaxed, we were content to sit and let them move around us. The herd split and ambled around our two vehicles, splashing through the shallow river, drinking or throwing glittering arcs of sand and water across their backs.
The youngsters had us all in stitches as they tried to keep up with their mothers; their short strides no match for the gait of the adults. Photographically, the scene was stunning and had the teams all working in sync, passing bits of advice, pointing out special moments and just having fun with it together.
As that moment passed, with the herd clambering up the steep bank on the other side, and the light fading as the sun dipped below the tree line it felt as if we were emerging from some weird time-warp. An hour and a half had just passed us by in the blink of an eye.
I think you may be able to tell that this afternoon had a huge impact on me personally. It was a reminder that slowing things down is often the key to a perfect drive. I am pretty sure you are all still sitting there wondering what happened to the leopard but she never actually crossed the river! And yet we didn’t feel at all cheated. Our sun-downer gin & tonic tasted sweeter than ever and we all counted ourselves lucky to have had such a special afternoon out in the paradise that is Londolozi.