Okavango Machaba: Hunting With a Leopard in the Dark

Brendon Reports from Okavango Machaba Reserve:

We heard zebras alarm calling just as we went to bed last night and realising that this usually means lions in the area, this thought was on our minds as we left the camp in the eerily quiet darkness this morning.

And sure enough, before long we found fresh lion tracks – a male and a female. We followed the tracks for simply ages … until they disappeared into a Mopane thicket that we couldn’t drive through.

But while tracking the lions we saw – and photographed – plenty of game. Lechwe, kudu, zebras and elephants to name a few. It is wonderful to see so many elephants here, large bulls, youngsters, the matriarchs – big herds, small herds … just beautiful!

We stopped at another of those drying up water-holes filled with fish, and were entertained for some time by a Yellow-billed Stork and a Marabou Stork. They were meant to be fishing, but at first each kept a wary eye in the other. Then the fights started. If one thought that the other had a fish, wings flapped furiously, and beak outstretched, it tried to intimidate the other. By now any fish was successfully swallowed and the scene started over again. One would think there was a shortage of fish – but they virtually had to simply dip a beak into that congested water to ensure a fish meal. We photographed the goings on until it was time to head back to camp.

On the way, we experienced the highlight of the morning! Two – yes, TWO Pels’s Fishing Owls in a tree. For many, this rare sighting was a lifer – and to see two together like that was fantastically wonderful.

This afternoon we quickly checked on the lion tracks again but we suspect that they have crossed the river into an adjoining territory – for now! 

Talking of the river – we photographed a large pod of hippos in the Khwai River. They were restless, and gave us plenty of material as they yawned or blew spray into the air. 

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And once again, there were elephants galore. Many came to the river to splash around, bathe, and drink.

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When we checked on the hyena den, a heart-warming sight met our eyes in the late afternoon sunlight. Two mother hyenas were suckling their cubs – one mother with three cubs, and the other with two. When the cubs finished, they climbed all over their moms, biting ears, nibbling tails, and tumbling to the ground in that adorable clumsy way that pups have. 

Just as the sun set, we enjoyed our sundowners overlooking the Khwai River – and another pod of hippos. What a magnificent setting – one wanted to remain there, deep in the tranquil African bush.

A final surprise awaited us after we finished our drinks. We found a beautiful female leopard. She was on the move, checking the area, and we used the spotlights to photograph the lovely cat as she moved about. She ignored us as she strolled through open spaces, checking this way, and that bush.

Then she started hunting, meaning that we needed to switch off the spotlights so as not to interfere with her chances of success. We waited for a while with her, but the darkness was quite intense. We saw dimly that she had spied a herd of impala, but we lost sight of her when she went after them. There were no sounds of a successful kill, so we headed back to the camp.

We are certain that she will hunt again tonight – maybe we can catch up with her in the morning …