(Photos: From Back of Ben’s Camera)
What a day! Wow! Amazing! One of the most exciting days imaginable …
Our excitement for the day started before we even set out. As we gathered at our vehicles for our morning drive we saw something on one of the pathways. It was a female leopard sauntering oh so casually towards us! It was still dark all around but as the paths within the Lodge grounds are well lit, we could see her very clearly. We jumped onto our vehicles and followed a road that runs parallel to the pathway.
The leopard walked from one end of the Lodge to the other. She left the Lodge grounds and started to hunt in the surrounding bushveld. We remained with her for most of the morning as she searched for prey. On several occasions she started to stalk, and we stopped, sitting quietly with bated breath to see what would happen next. On two occasions we thought she may be successful, but both the Duiker and then the impala that she stalked became aware of her presence and dashed away.
After the failed hunts we thought that the leopard was possibly in search of her cub. But she just kept moving, this way and that, sometimes through very difficult terrain where we struggled to keep her in sight.
It was about 7 am when the whole mood changed. Everything seemed to be the same one moment, but then the next moment she darted up a leadwood tree. We could hardly believe our eyes when we saw another female leopard up in that tree! And with a Duiker kill! Uh oh! Drama! An interloper! That could and would not be tolerated.
Whew! An almighty cat fight erupted up in that tree! It had to be seen to be believed. Snarls, hisses, fury! We sat there, awe-struck. The interloper tried to flee, but the furious resident leopard took a huge leap through the air, grabbed the fleeing cat in midair and the two crashed to the ground from about 10 meters up! Wow – nothing can express the drama!
The fight continued under the tree. Hissing, snarling, saliva, scratches, dust! It was terrifying. Suddenly the interloper broke away and fled as fast as she could. She disappeared somewhere to lick her wounds and her damaged pride while the resident victor flew up the tree where she claimed the Duiker and settled down to eat for about fifteen minutes.
Then the female looked around, jumped down from the tree and started a relentless search of the area. She circled around, checked every bush, sniffed, vocalised, rasped, and peed on almost every bush and tree around. She was still livid, and made sure that she marked her territory thoroughly and that no interloper would dare to return. It was fascinating to see how obsessively she secured her own boundaries, and ensured that the interloper was indeed gone.
After such an incredible morning, and as the light was quite harsh, we returned to the Lodge to discuss the amazing events of our drive, to gloat over our photos, and to rest for a while after all that excitement.
Realising that the female leopard would probably remain close to that kill to prevent the interloper from returning, we headed straight back there in the afternoon. We found her and spent most of our time with her. She searched for her cub, and as she moved she called, called, called. She reached an area where she had left the youngster, and simply sat down and called over and over and over again. It took about fifteen minutes before we saw the youngster running through the bush. There was a massive greeting between the two. Head rubbing, rolling, body contact, and then they started to move steadily through the bush towards the Duiker kill. We remained with them as they progressed and stopped occasionally for more head rubs and body contact. It was very endearing to witness the affection. They stopped at a waterhole to drink as they watched one another from opposite sides of the water.
By the time they reached the kill, the cub ran up the tree and started to feed while the mother patrolled the area again – circles again, checking bushes, grass, trees, and scent marking everything yet again. She ensured that the perimeter was secure for the evening while we photographed every move with different lighting techniques.
We will probably start our morning drive with a return to the leopards …