At the change of the season and with the bush starting to brown comes the excitement and anticipation of winter. When the air stings your face as you pull out of the lodge before the sun has broken the horizon. This is the time in the bush that I have been waiting for from about the half way mark in summer. Time when the predators are active for that much longer because of the cool morning air.
We left Bush Lodge on one such morning and heard on the radio of a group of hyenas that were heading south through the center of the reserve, often not the easiest of animals to get a look at, but with the sun up we made our way into the area. We stopped to have a look at a Bateleur eagle in the beautiful morning light when my tracker, Eric, shouted “LEOPARD!” His call caught us all off guard but we quickly made our way off the road to find Mahlathini male up a tree with an impala skull and some ribs that had seen better days.
Having maneuvered closer we discovered a hyena at the bottom of the tree, waiting to take advantage of any scraps that might fall. Repositioning, trying to get into a better position to view this beautiful leopard we were suddenly joined by 6 more hyenas, the group that had previously attracted us into the area. On their arrival there was some movement in the grass a few meters from the tree, it was a second leopard bounding out of the grass to put some distance between itself and the opportunists.
The tree in which Mahlathini male decided to hoist his meal was inadequate to say the least, a small Knobthorn with no horizontal branches and very little space for him to place his feet. The tree and lack of space eventually caused him to lose grip of the bulk of his meal. The hyenas waiting at the base of the tree took their prize and moved a small distance off giving Mahlathini a chance to come down and move off. We followed him as he opened the gap between himself and the distracted hyenas. He stopped briefly and looked back and this is when we noticed Nottins female walking quickly towards him.
We battled to follow them through some very thick bush but caught a lucky glimpse of them here and there. We didn’t see them mate that morning but we could hear the mating process in the thick under growth. We decided to call it a day and move off to look for one or two other animals on our morning drive. This was only the beginning for them though and their coming together lasted for about 5 days with many of the rangers and guests spending time with these secretive animals over their entire stint together. The mating was intense and they often came to blows after each short mating session. We are hoping that their time together will bring us cubs in the months to come and ensure that Nottins stays in the heart of Mahlathini males territory on Sabi Sabi.