The morning started off very slowly. Not much was moving around besides the Land Rovers and the occupants found themselves cuddling under blankets and hugging their hot water bottles to try keep warm as the icy air bombarded them from all sides. Noses ran, extremities ached but we pushed on hoping to find something special.
A few of the rangers had been tracking a female leopard who we thought to be Nottins and when they eventually found her they were shocked to see how skinny she was. Her stomach was completely indented and she was hoping to find a meal. When I joined the sighting she had spotted some kudu but the hunt was over before it began as the kudu spotted her and scattered in all directions barking their alarm call as they increased the distance between them and their foe.
Undeterred by this, she moved along and just kept looking to see if there was another opportunity. Whether or not she had seen the young kudu as they scattered will remain a mystery, but as if guided by a 6th sense she honed in on the vulnerable youngster. She slunk right onto her tummy as she leopard crawled along the road using the grass as cover, trying to intercept the point where the youngster was trying to cross to get back to the safety of the herd.
The kudu was now a mere 10 metres from her but was alert to some danger and something told it not to go. It doubled back into the bush and made its way further up but the leopard was again one step ahead as she quickly stalked forward again to intercept the crossing point. The kudu made its dash but she was on it in a second slamming into the kudu in mid-air and pulling it down before clamping her jaws tight over its windpipe to quell the dying animals cries.
She started to drag her meal to some shade to avoid detection from the air but the problem didn’t come from there. The cries of the kudu had resounded across the cold morning air and within minutes a hyena pulled in and stole the kill from the hungry mother. Sadness fell over me as I knew this would put added pressure both on her and her 2 cubs. We left the sighting with mixed feelings. On one hand we were happy to have witnessed this but on the other, sad that she wouldn’t be able to feed her babies yet.
By the time I was pulling into Little Bush Camp there were 3 hyenas now feeding on the kudu and no sight of the leopard. But then suddenly out of the bushes came the leopard, growling and hissing, sending the hyenas scattering and giving her just enough time to steal the kill back and scramble up a tree with her hard won meal. Whether or not she had planned this and was just waiting for the hyenas to eat enough to lighten the kudu to a weight that she would be able to hoist will be a mystery, but if she did, that would show an intelligence way beyond our understanding! I am very hopeful that she will bring the little ones out for a quality protein meal and give us all the opportunity to see them.