Elephant Plains Safari: Salayexe Dispatches a Female Leopard Intruder …

News from Villiers:

It was still quite overcast when we set out this morning – but because the wind had died down we were very optimistic as our drive started.

Right outside the Lodge we found a Spotted Hyena – and we just knew that we were in for a great time. The hyena was very alert, watching a herd of impala and a troop of baboons carefully and hopefully. The impalas and baboons made way for him and as soon as they made way for him he went to drink at the waterhole, giving us some great images with reflections in the water.

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When he had enough to drink, the hyena made his way very slowly towards the baboons. We pulled ahead to get some shots as he walked directly towards us. We jokingky said that this was our practice for leopards to walk towards us – hoping and holding thumbs!

When the hyena disappeared we moved on and almost immediately encountered a large herd of elephants. There are so many herds here at the moment, it is great! One of the young bulls in the herd was trying to strip bark from an acacia tree, but the bark was strong and he had to lean more and more, using all his weight to pull at the bark. He did this strip by strip, until satisfied that he had it all.

When the whole herd strolled right past us we took the opportunity for panning shots with slow shutter speeds and motion blur, which turned out particularly well with the overcast conditions. The overcast conditions didn’t last as the sun burst through the clouds and immediately warmed up the area.

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And as always there was plenty for the bird lovers including a female Bateleur Eagle flew over us.

Then we found some fresh leopard tracks that headed through the Manyalete River – and over our earlier morning tracks, so we knew that a leopard was close enough to track and find.

And that is what we did – yippee! … the tracks led us to Salayexe. She looked as though she was hunting, but soon after we arrived she went to lie down in the increasing heat. We left, knowing that we would track her down again after lunch … but of course Salayexe and others of her kind do not behave according to our wishes and when we returned to the spot to find Salayexe this afternoon there was no sign of her.

We found her tracks and followed these, stopping now and again for different raptors. A Tawny Eagle sitting in a Marula Tree was soon followed by a Wahlberg’s Eagle sitting on the ground searching for Crowned Lapwing Eggs. However, mom and dad Lapwing were particularly aggressive and harassed the eagle until it eventually gave up and flew away.

We finally found Salayexe shortly before sunset lying on a large termite mound. She got up and started to move around as we followed her until dark, enjoying the most wonderful experiences with the beautiful leopard. First, she went to the edge of a dry river bed and stood there calling, calling, calling with that grunting territorial sound that is so typical of a leopard. This morning she dispatched a female leopard from her territory and now she appeared to be affirming her rights over the area. She also scrape marked with her hind feet, and urinated on trees and bushes – all messages to emphasise that this is her territory so stay away!

We did a lot of spotlit, backlit and side-lit photography a well as impactful shots with rim lighting.

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As Salayexe meandered along there was plenty to distract her, such as a few Scrub Hares, Spotted Hyenas calling in the near distance, and as we passed a small water hole she stopped for a drink, making it easy to capture some more great shots.

Who knows where she will be in the morning – but our plan is to try and track her down …