Ben Reports from Okavango – Savuti: Leopard Crawl!
Today was our Big Moving day as we packed up to travel north – away from the floods, in pursuit of the animals. Yesterday we made the decision to go to Savuti as reports informed us that the animals seem to be milling around there.
Before we left we had a last game drive at Khwai … and of course this was a bumper morning.
It started when we spotted a magnificent herd of Sable Antelope. This is a rather rare sighting these days so to see their gleaming black coats and elegant curved horns in that lush setting was particularly beautiful.
We then heard of a leopard in a tree with a kill and we immediately drove there. It turned out to be a leopard that we spotted recently but were unable to photograph as it disappeared into the undergrowth almost as soon as we spotted it. The cat was way up in the canopy of a large Mopane tree, sprawled out on a branch and enjoying a post meal siesta. Not an interesting photographic situation at this stage.
But this changed. The kill was in an adjacent Mopane tree, and very fortuitously for us, soon after we arrived the leopard woke up, and spotted a herd of impala directly behind us. It stared intently at the impala, which was great for us as it looked almost through us to watch the antelope. This made for excellent photography and we all took full advantage of the moment.
Then the cat started a classical leopard crawl along the tree branch, staring all the while at its potential prey below. Then it jumped across a fork in the tree to hide behind some branches and to stare out surreptitiously at the movement on the ground.
The leopard then gradually descended from the tree and when it reached ground level, it started to stalk the oblivious impala in earnest. Closer and closer the cat crept, but suddenly the impala became aware of the danger and the cat’s stealthy attack was foiled. Busted! This activity had made the leopard a bit peckish, and it returned to the kill for a snack.
Just then we received a report of Wild Dogs very close by. They were in thick bush, unfortunately, and the sighting was fairly brief as the dogs disappeared into some Kalahari Apple-leaf bushes. But before they disappeared there was quite a dramatic encounter between the dogs and a hyena. They fended off the hyena, causing it to spin around as the dogs repeatedly tried to bite its rump. The whole show disappeared into the thick foliage, and by then it was time to depart for our drive to Savuti.
We arrived at Savuti in time for lunch and a quick rest before we set out on our evening game drive … and that turned out to be wonderful with a variety of interesting encounters.
We found a leopard with a kill, but the kill was on the ground, under a tree, and quite difficult to see well. In any case, it was quite hot, and when the leopard moved away to seek better shade, we also departed.
When we reached the marsh area, we could see animals everywhere, in all directions. Elephants, wildebeest, giraffe and much more – and the birds kept us as busy. Carmine Bee-eaters flew right next to us – a mere meter or so away – as they tried to catch the insects that were flushed out by or vehicles. We used our wide-angle lenses to photograph them.
We drove around for a bit, photographing the different animals and birds on the marsh area, but then decided to return to the leopard. We started out, but received a report about Wild Dogs, so we quickly changed direction. We found them running down the road, but after a very short sighting, they disappeared into the undergrowth. Sadly, we had lost them, even though we worked with a couple of other vehicles to track them again.
We returned to the leopard and shortly after we arrived it appeared in a neighbouring Leadwood tree. We photographed the cat with a beautiful pink to blue sky as a background, using flash to highlight the wry photogenic animal.
All in all it was a wonderful reward for a fairly strenuous day – what with the move from Khwai to Savuti, but it underlined the fact that our decision to move was a good one!
In the morning we will probably start at the leopard again …