A Very Close Encounter …

Dawie Reports from Elephant Plains on the Tusk Sabi Sand Photo Tour:

Our early morning game drive here in the Sabi Sand Reserve started quietly – but that was not an indication of how the day would progress. When we left the Lodge we decided to try and locate the male Leopard that we saw previously so close to the camp. We found his tracks easily and followed them. Each time we thought we were close to him as we judged by his fresh tracks, we were thwarted and he remained just a step ahead of us.

Eventually we decided to rather visit one of the waterholes. Because it is so dry here the waterholes are very muddy and we could actually see Barbel wallowing in the muddy water while Hippos sank as much as they could of their bulk into the coolness.

After our visit to the water hole we drove towards the area where we saw one of the female Leopards yesterday. On the way we stopped to photograph Elephants and plenty of Plains animals like Impalas and Giraffes.

We found the female leopard with her impala kill. The remains of the impala were stashed securely way up in a tree – well out of the reach of any hopeful Hyenas. Meanwhile the Leopard lay in the riverbed, where she entertained us with ongoing wide yawns and stretches, giving us some great photos. She scratched herself and twisted this way and that, looked at us from time to time, and appeared for all the world as though she was practising aerobics.

At this stage it was time for a coffee break and our return to the Lodge for breakfast, followed by a workshop on flash photography.

This afternoon we tried to find the male Leopard again – and followed new tracks that this time led us directly to the cat lounging peacefully in shade under a bush. We waited, hoping that as the heat of the afternoon abated he would be more inclined to move around. And that is exactly what he did, although he wasn’t up for very long before he decided that it was time for another nap.

We left the slumbering Leopard and next received quite a surprise. Ostriches are rather unusual in this part of the world, and it took a moment for us to register that this was actually what we could see. The two were quite skittish, but it was a treat to see them in this setting.

A White Rhino watched us without too much interest as we photographed him on his way to a muddy patch where we wallowed and covered himself in as much cool mud as he could get all over himself.

When we returned to the Leopard he was on a termite mound with a beautiful deep blue sky behind him. We used fill-in flash to create beautiful photographs with that deepening sky as a backdrop and the handsome feline in the foreground. Everyone was keen to practise the techniques we had covered in the earlier flash tutorial.

Just as we had all our setting perfect for the changing, colourful sky, the whole mood changed. The Leopard suddenly jumped up and started to run. What had he seen? Then we saw them – a little Warthog family that was returning to the safety of their burrow in the termite mound as evening approached. The Warthogs sensed the Leopard and they scattered. The Leopard then stealthily made his way in a large loop as he closed in on the Warthogs. When the family reached the termite mound two of them quickly disappeared into their burrow while the other two remained at the entrance to the burrow. Something that we could not identify spooked one of the two outside Warthogs and he suddenly bolted – he ran directly towards the lurking Leopard. We could scarcely believe our eyes. This is it for the Warthog, we thought. But then the strangest two seconds ever unfolded! The Warthog saw the Leopard and gave a loud squeak of fear. The Leopard was so startled that he jumped in alarm – and ran away from the Warthog that quickly turned and fled back to the burrow! Whew! That was so close! As split second made all the difference.

The Leopard returned to the scene and searched and searched for his prey, but they were out of sight. We followed him as he checked and re-checked the area, to no avail. A Hyena had heard the squeal and commotion, and arrived to see what he could purloin, but all he found was a Leopard busily searching around.

As it was dark at this stage and time to return to the Lodge, we started back, still quite shaken by the excitement we had witnessed, and more than ready for dinner, bed, and our next adventure …