Following on from a previous blog I wrote about The Joys of Tracking – today I’m going to share with you a very exciting tracking experience that Joy and I shared with a recent set of guests staying at Pioneer Camp. They had been with us for two nights already and the bush had provided us with amazing moments. However, the elusive and secretive leopard was still on our ‘too see’ list. A special privilege of visiting Londolozi is the high possibility of seeing a leopard during your stay. Although this is never guaranteed, I was sure that this particular afternoon would be the game drive where our patience would pay off. But what we were about to encounter was really unexpected, to say the least.
Setting off on the game drive, we had the intention of looking for anything with a set of whiskers and rosettes. We had work to do! It was an exceptionally warm winter’s day without a cloud in the sky and there had been no stable guaranteed leopard sightings from the morning game drive. Not long after leaving camp, Joy enthusiastically stuck out his right hand instructing me to come to a halt. This normally means something has caught his eye on the road in front of him. We both hopped off the vehicle to inspect what he had seen.
“A drag mark and a leopard track” Joy whispered to me with much delight.
Once a kill has been successfully made, a leopard will feed on the rump first and then remove the stomach contents of the prey. This lightens the load before they then drag it to a nearby thicket or hoist it into a suitable tree.
We returned to the vehicle to explain the discovery to our guests. With much excitement, we described the potential scenario that was playing out in front of us. Joy explained to us that it was unusual for a leopard to drag a kill a far distance, especially given the fact that there were a number of suitable trees to hoist the kill within a 50m radius of the drag mark. He went on to explain that the tracks were very fresh and the leopard must have been in the area in the last couple of hours. There was a fairly deep and well-covered dry riverbed about 100m off the road and this is where Joy suspected she had aimed to hide the kill.
Joy and I insisted on following the drag mark on foot to see exactly where it lead to. For a period the drag mark went along the road and then cut off and went through a dense thicket down towards the riverbed. Joy’s prediction was spot on as the tracks disappeared off the edge of the bank. We carefully scanned the riverbed and slowly searched the thick bushes while listening out for any movements in the grass.
Initially skittish she spent a lot of time in the Sand River, now relaxed she makes up the majority of leopard viewing west of camp.
We could feel she was close, concealed by the thick vegetation she was probably watching our every move. We looked up and there she was! A pair of pensive leopard eyes locked on ours. Now she knew she had been seen, a split second passed before she spun around and disappeared downstream leaving the dead impala unaccompanied. Adrenaline rushing, palms sweating as the excitement of the situation overwhelmed me. When Joy and I retreated, smiles filled our faces as we high-fived each other. We had succeeded.
The guests could see the grins on our faces as we scampered back toward the vehicle. They could feel the excitement before we even mentioned a word. Now back in the driver’s seat, the next step was to manoeuvre the Land Rover down into the riverbed to get a closer look.
While we sat with her we hoped she would move the kill and possibly hoist it into a nearby tree. Our luck continued. She tried to hoist the kill a number of times into a Weeping Boer Bean tree (Schotia brachypatela) protruding from the bank but failed with every attempt as dusk began to descend. Tensions were running high as we were desperate for her to get the kill up the tree as the imminent threat of a hyena approached. Hyenas are notorious for stealing kills from leopards so we decided to give her some space and return the following morning.
Before leaving her in peace, she briefly lay down in the open for us to get a clear view. What an unforgettable sighting it was.
When returning the following morning, all that was left were the remains of some fur which the leopard had plucked from the impala before feeding, no sign of the leopard. This just goes to show that we were in the right place at the right time. One lesson I have learnt from the bush is to embrace patience. When one allows themselves to be patient in the bush, it will provide an unforgettable experience. What moments of patience have stuck out for you when on safari at Londolozi? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.