When heading out on a game drive, there will always be an underlying plan or goal for the time in the wilderness. This is often influenced by what we have seen previously or if there is any particular interest from the guests in any specific animal. But once we are out there our plans can often shift or change depending on what we come across or what evidence or signs we see. For example, we might go out with the goal of getting into a specific area with the knowledge of a leopard being there the previous drive, but on our way there, we may come across fresh tracks of a different leopard that could be worth following, therefore changing the whole game drive. Finding these animals is a journey in itself and sometimes being the bush, the animals manage to evade us. But that’s the magic of it all – you never quite know what you are going to get out there.
On one particular drive, we set off with the hope of finding the Ntomi Male who was seen a couple drives before. Being a nomadic young male leopard, he often remains in a certain area for some time. We were excited to find tracks of him near the airstrip from early in the morning and began to search in that area. Unfortunately, we were unable to find him as he is not on territorial patrols just yet and quite honestly, his movements are rather erratic as he meanders his way in search of things to try to hunt. Often even attempting to catch birds, scrub hares mongoose, and mice. We decided to stop for a coffee and head out later that afternoon to try again.
We set off that afternoon with great excitement as tracks of the Ntomi Male had been found on top of our vehicle tracks from the morning game drive. We could even see where the leopard had walked on top of tracker, Lucky Shabangu’s footprints. Unfortunately, despite our efforts, the long grass and thick area once again made it very difficult to find him – but we weren’t ready to give up just yet. The next morning we had no immediate sign of him until ranger Dan Hirschowitz found him. We raced across to see him but as we got there he had darted off after something into a very thick area and unfortunately weren’t able to refind him.
After searching for the Ntomi Male for three drives, finally, our perseverance paid off. He was found quite a way from where he was last seen lying in the grass in the shade of a marula tree. We sat with him for quite a while as he lay resting. It wasn’t a particularly hot day, but he remained in the shade until finally he got up and walked towards what we thought was the shade of another tree.
A single cub of the Ximungwe Female's second litter. Initially rather skittish but is very relaxed now. Birth mark in his left eye.
We looped around to the direction he was heading, and right there under the tree was a young wildebeest calf that he must have killed sometime during the day. He had not eaten any part of it, which then made sense to me, he was resting under the marula catching his breath before eating. This has been the biggest animal he has killed that we know of, and it would definitely be too heavy for him to hoist into the tree. We left him that night with his kill still on the ground and waited to see what would transpire over night.
We headed back the following morning to see what may have gone down during the night, and there he was sitting beneath the same bush. To our surprise, the kill was still on the ground and had not been stolen by hyenas. Fortunately, the cool morning meant that perhaps the scent had not been picked up yet and he would be able to feed some more. He had his fill over the course of the day and by the time late evening had arrived a caln of hyenas had now smelt it and moved in to drive him away from the carcass. He was no match for the marauding hyenas.
What was great to experience with this sighting, was having the patience and perseverance to keep searching for him even when we couldn’t find what we were looking for. I think there is a great lesson in that – the bush humbles you and teaches you patience and appreciation for the wild animals and the autonomy they have in their behaviour. Sometimes you are lucky and find animals early on in your drive and sometimes you don’t. It is a wild wilderness area and with a bit of luck and timing, you are rewarded with time spent with these incredible animals and get a snapshot of them in their everyday life.
Secondly, it was great to see how this nomadic young male leopard has begun to catch more substantial meals which will sustain him for longer. Although his time at Londolozi may be finite, it is exciting to see how this leopard has survived and the Ximungwe Female has raised yet another cub.