safari bush sightings
cat in the grass
Over the Christmas period I was hosting a Brazilian family travelling in Africa for the first time, so I pulled out all the stops to show them something they would remember for many Christmases to come! As it turned out, it would be a Christmas that I would not forget for a very long time either!
We started our afternoon game drive in festive spirit intent on looking for big game, with the hope of relocating a female lion seen that morning on one of our open areas. With every member of the vehicle on the lookout we quickly found a bull elephant casually destroying a fully grown Black Monkey Thorn Acacia tree! With wide eyes everyone was blown away by this giant's power! We later found a lone rhino bull then a small group of Dagga Boys (male buffalo) out of their wallow, as the temperature had begun to cool.
It seemed we were on a game viewing roll, so I suggested to my guests that we skip sundowners for now and see if we could investigate the whereabouts of the lioness. We arrived at an area called Open Area Nkonkoni (wildebeest in Shangaan), to be greeted by 5 white rhino slowly traversing the open grassland. Being in the open made viewing them a pleasure, so we joined the 'crash' and chaperoned them toward the centre of the open area.
After 10 minutes we left the rhinos and made our way off the open area past a herd of wildebeest grazing very close to the Tamboti tree thicket the Lioness had shaded under that morning. I took the time to explain to the guests how wildebeest numbers were dangerously low in the Sabi Sand and commented that to see two healthy new-born wildebeest as part of the group we were watching was an encouraging sign. The wildebeest had turned away from us now and begun to walk and graze in the opposite direction: so we decided to move on.
As I half turned the key and waited for the ignition to catch, I gave the wildebeest one more glance wondering if they knew where our lioness had moved to. At that thought there was a sudden explosion right in the middle of the herd of wildebeest and every member in the group physically reared up and bolted in every direction!! There was a flash of gold and white and then one of the wildebeest calves collapsed with a cry of distress! All the wildebeest were snorting and charging back and forth in all directions. I immediately changed the position of the vehicle and called, over the sound of my Brazilian guests communicating flamboyantly amongst each other in Portuguese, asking my tracker if he had seen what on earth had just happened! He turned quickly and answered back "Ingwe"!
I couldn't believe it! As we approached closer, there, still suffocating the wildebeest calf, was a young female leopard! The large male wildebeest made several attempts to chase the leopard off the baby, but she took a position behind the calf, maybe aware the bull would never run over the calf in his attempt to reach her. After several failed attempts he backed away and moved the rest of his herd away from the scene. They snorted in anguish as they moved to a safer distance. I couldn't get my head around the fact the leopard had been hiding in the long grass just feet from the wildebeest the whole time we were observing them! Unreal!!
Wasting no time, the young female began to drag the now dead calf toward a dense Lowveld Saffron tree close by, watched with dismay by the wildebeest and a herd of impala that also seemed to be aware of the situation.
The leopard was positioned under the tree so it was difficult to see what she was doing, but it appeared she was getting her breath back after the kill. With a lull in the proceedings I took the opportunity to explain to my guests exactly what they had just witnessed, and how amazing that it all happened in broad daylight! This was a first for me too which made them even more excited about the encounter. Then suddenly Max, my tracker, turned to me, stopping me mid sentence saying one word, "Ngonyama"! And sure enough, coming from the western side of the open area, was the lioness we had been in search of. Obviously alerted by the commotion, she was trotting over, head held high searching for an explanation! Dumbfounded we all watched as she approached the very tree the young leopard was under!
It seemed there was no more room for any other intervention, but Max suddenly blurted out "Mpisi!" And true to his word, from the Eastern side of the open area, a young male hyena was now eagerly approaching the scene, scattering impala and wildebeest as he came! The lioness immediately changed posture and focus, bypassed the tree with the kill and crouched in the long grass waiting for the hyena. As he got within twenty meters of the lioness, she shot out of the grass bowling the hyena over! Without hesitation, as if hit by lightening, the hyena took off as fast as he could away from his attacker, without even looking back! Everyone in the vehicle broke into hysterical laughter, but we were all cut short as the lioness turned and headed back towards the leopard and her kill.
Moving slowly now, sniffing the earth as she walked, the lioness homed in on the prize…! I explained to my guests that a young female leopard would be no match for a large lioness such as this one, and as if hearing my comment, the leopard realised there would be only one outcome if she stayed, and bolted out from under the tree. Without even a scrap of meat as a clue, she had showed the lioness exactly where to look and within seconds the bigger predator had found what she was looking for. With a crunch she gripped the calf by its spine, lifted her head and proceeded to casually carry the 20kg calf away from the scene to eat in peace!
We all couldn't help but feel sorry for the young leopard as she watched from the safety of a tree while the lioness walked off across the open area, the calf limply suspended from her massive jaws. We left the scene, wildebeest still snorting, reminded that in nature only the strongest survive!