On a recent afternoon game drive, we left camp and headed past the airstrip, a pretty routine part of any game drive as it is one of the common routes used to get further away from camp. On our way up we found three large buffalo bulls who had just been mud-wallowing. It is quite unusual to see buffalos at the airstrip, so seeing these three as they slowly ambled around was exciting.
After spending some time with them we could see a journey of giraffes scattered on the airstrip ahead of us. We could sense that the pace of the game drive was going to be a slow, calm and pleasant one. We looped up onto the airstrip and sat with the giraffes as they mingled around each other, before long a dazzle of zebras ambled towards us with a large aggregation of impala and wildebeest as a stunning backdrop to the caleidoscope of patterns in the foreground.
It was amazing to see how all these animals happily coexisted in an area together, simply put because they are all herbivorous, they do not pose a threat to each other and rather prefer to be together as the safety in numbers is a huge advantage. Two of the younger giraffe bulls were practising their fighting technique called ‘necking’, at this stage, it was just play-fighting in order to develop and hone their skills that will be essential for later life as they battle it out for the rights to mate with a receptive female in oestrus. The zebras nuzzled and brushed past one another while feeding on the lush grass. The setting sun meant the temperatures were cooler and the lighting on the scene spectacular, perfect for us to sit back and relax as the animals all just meandered through the open grass crests.
The tranquil scene and sounds of the afternoon were soon interrupted by the frantic panicked alarm calls from a heard of impala behind us.
The herd of impalas huddled together as they desperately sounded the alarm, all striking the same alert unwavering posture facing the same direction. Within seconds it seemed two hyenas came sprinting across the airstrip towards the alarming impalas, but not stopping there they ran straight past them.
Hyenas being scavengers often respond to alarm calls in the hopes that they may be able to storm in and steal a carcass from another predator, most likely a leopard and essentially cash in on a free meal.
As we followed the hyenas into the thicket line we lifted our gaze and found the Nhlanguleni Female in the process of desperately trying to hoist an impala into a nearby tree to escape the relentless jaws of the hyenas.
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.
To our amazement, the impala was still in the throws of trying to escape, thankfully for the Nhlanguleni Female, it was a young and somewhat light impala that she was able to hoist while dealing with the fight for survival. It was a difficult scene to process as you watched the circle of life unfolds before our eyes but with the knowledge that the Nhlanguleni Female had at least one cub to look after we were ecstatic that she had successfully held on to the carcass and got it into a tree where that would guarantee her a decent feed.
After some time to let the emotions settle and realise what we had been witness to, our gaze shifted to her stomach where we could clearly see the suckle-marks and evidence that she had just come from her den.
As difficult as it was to watch the impala take its last few breaths, it is crucial for a mother leopard to get regular meals as her body is having to produce milk as well. With the heavy rains and difficult conditions, we can only hope that this litter of hers survives and we can watch this incredible leopard raise another litter. She sat in the tree for a long time before she regained her energy to begin to feed. In some ways, she was lucky to have managed to get this impala into the tree before the scavenging hyenas stole it from it. Raising a cub is no easy feat and so we hope that she is successful with this one and that we can have some more great sightings of it.