sabi sabi ranger stories

that's my impala

Gentle, intermittent rain had been falling most of the day and had continued into the evening. I was feeling a little frustrated as we headed back to Earth Lodge for dinner. We had seen very little - all the animals seeking cover from the rain. I could sense my guests' disappointment. Earlier, as the sky darkened, I and a few other rangers had found the fresh tracks of a male Leopard entering a deep donga. We had used what little light was left to follow the tracks on foot, but had found nothing, losing the tracks on hard ground and no amount of searching had revealed any more signs.

I often tell my guests that no matter how skilled you are at tracking or how "tuned" into the bush, a lot to do with finding animals (especially those that survive by stealth and work at not been seen) is luck - being in the right place at the right time. I'm never quite sure if they believe this or see it as an excuse for not finding anything! This group of guests, I’m sure, did believe me when we drove past the donga one last time, only to see a male Leopard casually crossing the road in front of us. We had driven past the site at least ten times since finding the tracks, we were ready to give up, and there he was.

The Leopard was following a scent upwind of him, lifting his head and sniffing as he walked. He entered the donga along the same route we had used earlier, walking on our and his tracks. He paused to listen and sniff more often after entering the donga. He was obviously onto something, but what? Then he found it, an Impala carcass, disguised with leaves and branches on one of the donga's deep banks. I could not believe we had not seen or smelt it earlier while we were tracking!

I was curious. If this Leopard had killed the Impala, he would not have taken so long to locate the carcass. This was another Leopard's kill. Leopards are not above scavenging and will steal kills from other Leopards and smaller predators when the opportunity presents itself. Suddenly there was a spine-chilling snarl from the opposite bank. As we jumped round in our seats, we saw another male Leopard launch itself with lightning speed from the dense bush directly onto the first Leopard! The skirmish that followed was a blur of growls, hissing, bared canines and razor sharp claws. The scavenger decided this was not what he had planned, turned tail and ran off - minus a few tufts of fur and a deep gash on the left shoulder. The victor - presumably the original owner of the carcass - continued to snarl and stare in the direction that the scavenger had chosen to escape, before inspecting his Impala. He scanned the banks of the donga, chose a suitable tree and then dragged the carcass up into it. After positioning it in a suitable fork, about three metres up, he seemed satisfied and with paws hanging on either side of a branch went to sleep.

What, for the Leopards, was probably just another day in Africa, was for us an experience we would remember forever as one of the highlights of our lives. Needless to say the frustration we had felt had vanished, replaced with a sense of euphoria at witnessing one of life’s survival lessons.

Joe Mashaba

Ranger Earth Lodge

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