15 Dec 2010 Mission complete
Having been with us for a couple of days, our guests had already been on a number of very successful game drives. However, the one animal they had yet to see was the leopard.
Arguably the most spectacular of the big cats, these graceful animals invariably leave one at a loss for words. Even those who have worked in close proximity to them for many years, still stare in wonder at the sight of them.
We decided to split our drives up in order to guarantee maximum viewing in the time we had available to us. During the day we focused on general game such as antelope, rhino and buffalo, as well as the higher profile animals like elephants and lions, and then in the evenings we set about searching for the elusive leopard.
Although we did hear about a couple of sightings during the previous days, by the time got there the leopard had either left already, or it would disappear into thick bush shortly afterwards.
But on this particular drive the bush was quiet. There wasn’t the usual buzz going on. It was almost as if ‘everyone’ was just going about their business. No time for squawking or chattering.
So we ambled along on some of the reserve’s quieter roads. Making our way slowly towards the river-line, where in the past we’d enjoyed some exceptional leopard viewing.
We spotted a small troop of vervet monkeys en route, and decided to stop and watch them for a while. As soon as they grew accustomed to our presence, the adults allowed the youngsters to venture a little further afield.
The little guys quickly resumed their game of “king of the castle”, and set about trying to push each other off the current favorite branch.
We’d been watching them for a couple of minutes when the bark of a nearby impala broke the silence. Before long the surrounding bush was a cacophony of impala alarm-calling.
We immediately headed off in the direction of the calls.
As we approached we could see that the impala were all very nervous. The dominant ram was standing in the front, stiff legged, ears cropped forward and eyes wide, snorting for all he was worth.
The females and younger herd members were all prancing around behind him, unable to decide if they should make a run for it or stand still in order to keep an eye out for whatever it was that had spooked them.
In the end they decided to err on the side of caution and run while the going was good. We chose to hang around and see if we could find this uninvited guest, but all we could hear was the impala expressing their indigence in the distance.
After about ten minutes we drove a little further on, hoping to find more clues ahead. At this point we were right along the river-line, and about 50 meters from where we’d first met up with the impala.
A flash of movement caught our eye to the left of us.
There she was with an impala kill, and what an absolutely spectacular sighting it was. Perfect visibility. No distractions. We couldn’t have wished for a better way for our guests to end their stay with us.
With our mission complete, we could leave, happy in the knowledge that we’d shown our guests everything we’d set out to see.
But nature had a little surprise in store for us.
We suddenly noticed the leopard’s cubs. Three bundles of dark fluff clambering about, and all of them claiming to have made the kill themselves.
She had most probably been in the process of moving her cubs to a new area, when she’d come across the herd of impala and decided to get some ‘take-out’ for her young family.
We sat with them for what now seems like an impossibly short space of time, and watched as Mom ate her fill and the rambunctious youngsters pounced and tugged on the little trophies they’d claimed for themselves.
We left with a real sense of fulfillment at a job well done. No doubt this precious memory will be etched into our minds for many a year to come.
See you on drive,
The Camp Jabulani Rangers 😉
Note: Unfortunately gremlins crept into our hardware and we lost a bunch of photos, including the ones from this drive. So the leopard featured in this post is not the same one mentioned in the story.