safari bush sightings
leopard hunting sighting…..while on foot!!!
The morning was overcast and a lot cooler than the previous few days had been. Instead of walking back to the lodge from our sunrise safari, I decided to let the guests have breakfast first and then we would head out on a good morning walk. I had 4 guests who wanted to go on a trail and I thought I would make it a bit longer than usual and head out along the dry riverbed course.
After my bush walk pre-briefing (instructions), we started out with an air of excitement inter-mingled with the usual nervous jitters of those walking in the wilderness for the first time. I decided to stop and chat about the geology of the reserve and how it influences the flora of the region. As if on cue while I was explaining the reason for there being so many impala in the area, a large herd moved into an open clearing to our west. The whirring of camera motor drives started and the guests took photos of their first ever encounter with a wild animal on foot. I chatted briefly to them about the impala and suggested we move on to leave the impala in peace.
About 50 metres from the herd, as I was about to point out some trees, a movement from the corner of my eye caught my attention- there was something lying down in the grass trying its best to conceal itself. I raised my fist slowly, and, as instructed in my earlier briefing, my guests stopped immediately, not daring to move! Sweat dripped down my forehead as I focussed on what had caught my attention. Shuffling and the click of a camera, and a leopard turned to look me directly in the eye. He was about 70m from us and about 100m from the impala.
With a wave of my arm the guests crouched down, I turned to them and whispered for them to stay dead quiet with no movement or photographs. With that, the leopard relaxed and incredibly returned to its hunting. I knew that any movement from our side would spoil his chances of hunting, and could possibly be a danger to my guests, so we sat! 10 minutes passed and the leopard remained fixated on the impala. We could see the impala as they continued feeding. All his muscles were tautly bound as the leopard, coiled like a deadly spring, was about to pounce. My legs were aching and the sun had come out and was beating ferociously onto us.
Beads of sweat appeared on my body and face and I could see the guests taking strain. The back of my neck was burning and my rifle was slippery in my hands. Still I dared not move! Another 5 minutes passed, when barely detectably, a liquid like movement caused the grass to move as though a breeze was blowing and the leopard started stalking closer to the impala. We had lost sight of the leopard and I allowed the guests to take a sip of water while we waited for the sounds of a kill. A further 5 minutes and I could feel pins and needles creeping up my legs. It would be too dangerous to try to follow the leopard on foot - and the temperature was also beginning to soar.
I turned to look at my guests and was pleased to note that everyone was quite relaxed. I decided at that stage that it was safe to move them into the cover of a large Jackalberry tree to wait. I could see the excitement on their faces and a longing to break out and talk, the initial trepidation and fear of the first bush walk long ago lost! I hushed the guests as I reminded them that the leopard was still hunting. The impala were still feeding a way off. I sat down in the shade and for a second allowed my eyes to close as I slugged back some rather warm water.
A sharp burst of an alarm call snapped me back to attention as pandemonium broke out in the impala ranks. Valuable water splashed down my chest as I tried to see what was happening. Chaos ensued as impala ran helter-skelter in every direction with alarm calls being screamed out. A brief glimpse of black and gold as the leopard tore through the grass to its quarry - and in a brief second or two it was over. The impala were hurtling through the bush away from us and all was dead quiet. I strained to make out what happened but could not see into the clumps of grass and the thicker bushes. It would be sheer madness to try getting closer. After spending so much time stalking its prey, a leopard would not allow humans to just walk up to have a look.
I suggested we head back to the camp and get a vehicle and come have a look, to which every one agreed. We headed away from the area, after instructing my guests to remain quiet. A little way on, I was trying to think of my upcoming discussion on what we had experienced. No need. The guests themselves broke out in an enthusiastic chorus and I kept just answering questions. Their excitement was so infectious that I found myself almost running to get back to the lodge for a vehicle. I had put aside the usual protocol of no talking as the guests just could not contain themselves and were going over the hunt sequence again and again. Totally lost in conversation, nobody noticed the 3 white rhino until they stood up to see what had intruded on their sleep time. As the giant blocks of granite came to life not 30 metres away, my guests, in perfectly trained synchronization, moved into a well rehearsed "what to do when viewing potentially dangerous game on foot" drill, and the rhino relaxed!
We got back to the lodge and everyone grabbed cold water while I fetched the Land Rover. Unfortunately, on returning to the area where we had "witnessed a kill", we could find no trace of the leopard or the unlucky impala. Leaving my guests safely in the vehicle, I walked through the bush on my own - to no avail though. There was a drainage line not too far from the kill site that had some thick bush. This was probably where the leopard had gone. We drove around the perimeters, but still could not find the leopard or his tracks leaving the thicket
We decided to leave the area and let the leopard eat in peace!