lions, leopard, a kill and more... by pieter coetzee
It was a hot summer morning when we found the tracks of our biggest resident pride of lions shortly after leaving Earth Lodge. This pride, also known as the Southern Pride, consists of 15 lions in total; 1 adult male, 5 adult females and 9 sub-adults. It was therefore not too difficult to follow their tracks and we eventually found them on the northern end of our airstrip, right on the tarmac.
We had only been with them for a moment when my tracker, Moses, pointed towards the east of the runway, showing us a large male leopard barely 50 metres from the lions. Fortunately for the leopard he was hidden from the lions' view by a clump of grass and a small embankment; although we had a great view of both parties from our vantage point.
The leopard seemed to be aware of something and had probably picked up the scent of the pride of lions, but he didn't attempt to move away. What we didn't realise was that the leopard was investigating a nearby abandoned aardvark burrow and that the burrow was occupied by a warthog sow and her young.
The lions, still blissfully unaware of the leopard right under their noses, didn't notice as he went in for the kill and dragged a warthog piglet out of its burrow. Amazingly, the little warthog didn't even let out a sound when the leopard got hold of him. That would have brought the lions rushing over to investigate. I can only think that the leopard was so experienced in catching warthogs that he knew exactly where to grip it to prevent any sound escaping.
As soon as the leopard had the warthog firmly in his mouth, he started moving away from the lions very quickly. We of course set off, following him with the Land Rover, trying to maintain visual of the leopard as it moved through the bush. Eventually the leopard moved through a wet section of the land, where we wouldn't follow with the vehicles in fear of getting stuck and also of damaging the bush. After circling the area on the road for about 20 minutes we saw no sign of the leopard coming out into the open, and I thought that that would be the end of our sighting, as exciting as it had been so far.
My fearless tracker Moses however, had other plans, and suggested the two of us go in and try to track the leopard on foot, hopefully finding it in an area where we could safely access it with the vehicle. We set out through the wet grass and Moses quickly got onto the trail of the leopard, following the path it had created through the long grass as it carried its kill.
We lost the trail momentarily in shorter grass but found it again very quickly, and after we had walked only a few metres further, the leopard jumped out of the grass right in front of us, and in a flash went straight up a Marula tree. It paused momentarily on a branch and gave us a stare which I will never forget. The leopard then jumped down with a growl no doubt aimed at us, grabbed its kill and ran off into a nearby thicket.
With our adrenaline pumping we made our way back to the vehicle and told our waiting guests what we had just experienced, but not before Moses and I exchanged a few private excited comments!
Now that we knew where the leopard was hiding we found a suitable route into the thicket and relocated him with his kill. The leopard settled down to feast on its hard earned meal, providing us with amazing photo opportunities and an experience that I will never forget!