Leopards corner

There are vultures flying overhead. Didn’t think I looked that ready to be their meal. I thought they were onto something but for now are just catching the first thermals of the day.
Driving along the river on the edge of the tall trees, the ground is bare. Grey dusty alluvial soils. A herd of impala came running from the west and across the track in front of me. A small herd of kudu were also on the run. And about 200m away from them another herd of impala were running east. What were all these guys running from. I stopped and while listening got myself ready for the night. Changed into warmer clothes. Changed tripod heads. Set up the lights for the night. Downed some smoothie. Even after all of this, I was still none the wiser as to what had these guys running. It was just getting dark now and I was already using my spotlight. About half a kilometre on chaos broke out. Ahead of me another herd of impala were roaring crazily and south of them other impala snorting frantically. That intense snorting had to mean a predator was around. I found the impala on the edge of the riverine where that donga from the cyclone runs east. The same donga I’ve found my young male leopard in several times. The impala ran from me into the riverine. Presumably if there was a predator they wouldn’t be running towards it. I drove the area between the donga and the riverine. It was small Acacia bushy country. The ground hard and bumpy with furrows from the cyclone.

Sitting up in a little open patch was a leopard. At her feet was a female impala that she’d just killed. She seemed a little apprehensive with my approach but soon settled down and we became buddies for the night. Having just killed the impala she was still on edge as lions and hyaenas would happily steal her prize from her. It was already cool, the moon was rising and crickets had started up their tunes for the night. A couple of Scops Owls were joined by a Barred Owl, it’s call more like a Scops Owl on steroids. The shadows cast by the moon were still long but being in a gap in the trees, the white stomach of the impala stood out almost iridescent. The leopard eventually settled down at the back end of the impala and fed. A jackal was shouting a few hundred meters to our east. Had something heard the kill and was approaching? The night was soon quiet again, but for the song of the owls and a Three-banded Courser. The leopard finished feeding and lay next to the carcass. Several times a leopard called some distance east of us. The moon was well into the sky, the shadows had shortened and the leopard left the carcass without moving it and headed off east. I decided to guard her trophy for her. She came back several hours later, grabbed her prize by the neck and dragged it north into the donga. At least there it was a little out of sight of other predators. Lions were roaring somewhere south of the river and another responded not far east of us. Was it on it’s way? For the next few hours lions roared all around and the leopard stayed put. Everything was quiet now, except for the lions. The air was still but a little chilly. The moon was still up when dawn crept in. I moved some distance away from the kill as I knew the leopard would be nervous of me being there. I have yet to understand this. I was with her all night parked not even 20m away and she was happy to feed and rest with me around. Come day and I was parked about 100m away and she went into hiding. She took cover behind a bush and continued to stare me down. Quite scary. I have seen this behaviour time and again with lions and leopards. It’s as if they’re blind at night and cometh the day they suddenly realise what this beast that’s been following them is. With her carcass in the open I knew she’d be wanting to get it out of sight of vultures. As I backed off several hundred meters she came in immediately, picked up the impala by the neck and dragged it somewhere into the forest…

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Mob attack

There was no sign of the baboons this evening. Little was left of the impala carcass and the cub was making sure to get the most of it while mom chilled about 20m away from me. She was already coming to accept me. With his full tummy the cub bounced out the tree and tumbled with mom. It was some time later in the night I heard clambering up a tree. The mother leopard had climbed a Leadwood about 50m away. Then I saw the brute, a male lion at the base of the Nyala-berry. Hopefully the cub was out of harms way, but the lion was only interested in scavenging, being the prize scavengers they are. He found the carcass on the termite mound. There really was nothing left but bones and a little skin. Even so he ducked off with his scraps and disappeared into the donga.
Dawn arrived fresh and crisp. The sky was clear and soon the sun peeped over the Chimanimani mountains. I wasn’t sure if the leopards were still around. A jackal suddenly shouted his mobbing call not even a hundred meters to the east. The leopards or lion must be there. I couldn’t see the jackal as it was obscured by the small Acacias. Cameras up and ready to roll, I drove towards the mobbing sound. Coming round the bushes I saw a number of baboons around too. Just then all hell broke loose. Elephants had completely trashed a False Marula tree that was now lying in pieces on the ground. The Capparis creeper that had been growing in its canopy lay as a thicket on the ground. The ground all around was hard and bare with the next lot of bush about 30m away.  It was surrounding this thicket that all the action was taking place. Baboons had cornered the mother leopard. She had nowhere to go as they made threatening advances at her. Was her cub in the thicket with her? Eventually she couldn’t take it any more and went on the attack. A big male baboon in front of her took the brunt of the attack as she threw teeth and claws at it. The moment was brief and then she ran pursued by an angry crazy mob of about 20 baboons. They were close enough to bite her as she ran for a dense thicket. It was an unbelievable sight. The leopard running for its life with this mob all psyched and on the rampage. Like angry mobs of people demonstrating, except these guys were ready to kill. But she made it and reluctant to follow her into the thicket the baboons left her. There was another commotion in a Nyala-berry back in the west. When I approached about 15 baboons fell from the tree desperate to get away. Did they think the mother was returning? What were they doing up the tree and what was the commotion all about? There was still a baboon right in the top of the tree. Also in the canopy of this tree a Capparis creeper had made its way to the top. Capparis creepers are armed with small hooked thorns. Then the screaming growling sound again. It was coming from the creeper. The cub had tucked itself deep into the thorns right on the edge of the creeper and just above it a baboon was trying to get to it. The cub stood fast lashing out at the baboons advances making a lot more noise than you’d expect from such small fur-ball. With all the other baboons having left the tree, this baboon was taking chances if the mother returned and eventually realising it, he left. Mother and cub had each survived their own scary mob attack…

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Surviving the masses

It was very windy. I suppose that typical wind we get in August. There was a blanket of cloud rolling in very slowly from the east. It looked like a smooth blanket, its front edge soft and round just catching the last rays of the sun turning the edge pastel pink. A strange beautiful sight of threatening weather. I was arriving back at the leopard kill. There were baboons in the area heading back to their roost. Then all craziness broke out. Baboons screaming and shouting from the Nyala-berry tree. When I’d focused in, the mother leopard was lying on the carcass surrounded by baboons. They weren’t scared and would happily kill her cub. Where was it? She was standing her ground probably protecting her little one someone there. She was facing the donga, her back to me and to several baboons sitting in the Thilacium bushes  at the base of the Nyala-berry. A big male baboon climbed a broken branch that lay on the ground, its broken end on the termite mound where the mother was. He was jumping on the branch trying to intimidate her. It worked but not the way he wanted. In a flash she spun round and launched herself at the branch. There was that wild commotion again, baboons screaming everywhere. A very intimidating situation for any mother. The baboon on the branch was quick and somehow (their tails are always upright) managed to disappear his tail between his legs. Other baboons rushed the anthill. The mother stood fast. She could protect herself up there with the donga providing a safe backdrop that the baboons couldn’t approach from. She had chosen her battle ground well. The sun had set a while ago, the wind had died down and the baboons were still standing their ground not going to roost yet. Some impala had joined the baboons in the donga, feeding all around them. An interesting sight considering there was a leopard only 15m from them. Commotion broke out again as the mother launched herself at another baboon climbing the branch. There was still no sign of the cub. Did the baboons grab it in that first advance when I was arriving there? It was now nearly dark and one by one the baboons peeled off heading west to their roost. (I can hear them now in their roost probably only a 100m away. Dawn will soon be on the way. Will they be back to torment the leopard?) There was one big male baboon, still sitting at the bae of anthill watching the leopard. Only when it was dark did he move off. It was now quiet. That same quiet I’ve often spoken of. Not a sound. Not even crickets down here. The wind had died down completely. The moon shone a lovely light on the scene. (Last night when I got here the moon had long gone to bed.) The Thilaicum bushes stood dark in ‘bright’ light coloured sand. The anthill was in complete darkness. The Southern Cross was perched above the Nyala-berry. That blanket of cloud had turned white, lit by the moon and was still advancing. The only sound now was the mother crunching on the carcass.
With my light on I noticed movement in the leaves above her. Her cub. It had obviously taken refuge high up in the Nyala-berry and with everything being safe, was coming down to feed. They fed and disappeared into the donga. In the middle of the night they were back feeding again. The moon had dipped below the western horizon. It was really dark. The cloud had arrived and it was warm.
Male baboons are now (as I type) greeting the coming dawn with their booming barks. It will be light soon. Will they be back to torment the leopards or have the leopards moved off and will only return after dawn when the baboons have gone?

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New little find

A Civet was sniffing around next to the track. Just ahead of it the bloodstain in the track was a dead give away. The blood had soaked into the hard grey soil. A clot of blood was still wet. All around it were marks of confusion, a struggle and then the distinct drag marks heading south. Something was dragging something big that it had just killed. I decided to follow the Civet. We were no doubt both looking for the same thing. The Civet had its nose to the ground in this small Acacia country. It was easy going. The ground was hard making the drag marks not that easy to see, so for now I was relying on the civet. A sandy patch, from the cyclone, showed the Civet wasn’t on the drag mark. It seemed to be crossing them, this way then that. We got to a donga and down went the Civet, but the drag marks didn’t and followed the donga and headed southeast. I never did see the Civet again and anyway couldn’t get into the donga with Joanie. It was sandy up here and easy to follow the marks. Past a Sand-paper bush, some Thilacium bushes scattered around and an Albizia in flower that has been trashed by elephants but still making a living. There was a Nyala-berry up ahead. The only big tree this side of the donga. The other side was tall riverine, ideal place to hide a carcass. The Nyala-berry was surrounded by small Thilacium bushes a couple of feet high. These evergreen bushes provide good cover. The drag marks went straight to the tree. When I got closer she stuck her head up from between the bushes, a female leopard.
She was about to bolt when I switched off and she relaxed. I couldn’t see the carcass and she wasn’t about to show it to me. The leopard had dragged the carcass about 300m to get to this chosen tree She kept looking towards the tree. The night was still. Not as breeze. Several Scops owls chirped to the south in the dense riverine. A Fiery-necked Nightjar called “Good lord deliver us”. Very appropriate in the setting. In the east, a faint glow showed dawn was approaching. As with many Nyala-berry trees an anthill grew around this tree. Or did the tree grow around the anthill? Coming out of the anthill were several huge stems of the tree. Through the stems I thought I could see the body of an impala. I reversed back and went round. From the northern side I had a clear view of the impala carcass mounted on top of the anthill amongst the tree stems. About half of it had been eaten AND!!! there was a leopard cub feeding! It must be 3 to 4months old. It wasn’t too phased with my presence and continued to feed, its stomach already well on its way to bursting. Dawn was coming fast and the riverine was now alive with a chorus of birds, mainly doves. Ground Hornbills also boomed their approval at the coming dawn. The cub eventually retired into the Sand-paper bush thicket adjacent to the Nyala-berry. The mother was still lying amongst the Thilacium bushes, when an eland cow popped out of the donga about 50m away. She was walking cautiously, scanning ahead with every step. Then came her surprise. 10m behind followed her tiny calf, only a few days old. She must have been hiding it in the dense riverine and was now ready to take it to join the herd. A risky process until she got there. I have no doubt if the leopard didn’t have her own kill, she would have been extra keen. Life played the calf a lucky card today. Maybe one that will allow it to live a great life. It’s often the young that get taken. Easy prey when they haven’t yet honed their survival skills. I too had a lucky break in my youth. A story for another day…

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Leopard guards his impala kill

13th June 2019
It was already dark when I got back to the area where the leopard had its impala kill. I wasn’t exactly sure where I had it and was scanning the area as I drove. I found the drag marks across the track and shining to the my left saw some strange hairy shapes. 4 Bushpigs, 2 adults and 2 youngsters were busy tucking in to the impala carcass. It was in the open, right where I had left it. How did the vultures no find it? Why hadn’t the leopard taken it into a thicket? Where was the leopard now? The bushpigs had found the carcass perfectly open for them to tuck in to the intestines and meat. Jostling between each other they were clearly relishing all this protein. They must have got my scent, cos as one they bolted and never returned. I got myself into position for the night. I drove a little closer right up against the trunk of a Raintree. Its cover would keep the dew off me. The carcass was about 20m away, my headlights would shine perfectly on it. It was lying in the open on an elephant path running east west. About 5m to the north of the carcass was a low anthill behind which was a big Leadwood with some scrub around it. The moon was bright, already bulging on its way to full. The elephant path went past a dead fallen Raintree, its lightly coloured trunk shining like ivory in this light and its roots, from my position formed the shape of a large X. (No, not extra large…) I was sitting in a grove of Raintrees, their shadows covering me, so making me less obvious, although that’s not so easy when I’ve got Joanie with me. Then I saw him coming along the elephant path just east of the X. It was a young male leopard.
He didn’t go straight to the carcass, but moved around behind me, continued round and approached the carcass from the north, seeming to use the anthill as cover. He seemed unperturbed that the bush pigs had been feeding and soon settled in to feed. He wasn’t tucking into the tender fresh rump, but was taking the intestines and pulling them through his front teeth, so extruding the contents and only eating the meaty covering. He stopped feeding, lions were roaring not far away. Then back to feeding. Eventually he rested up on the anthill grooming himself meticulously. A hyaena called further east and every 8seconds a Scops Owl called from the top of a Leadwood tree not too far away. The lions called again several times in the night. They were moving west but probably not even 500m away. Predawn I was woken by crunching at the carcass. The leopard was feeding again. There was a faint hint of light to the east and Ground Hornbills were thundering their calls somewhere in the dense riverine. It really is such an awesome sound! In the freshly approaching dawn, a pair of jackals, their coats light against the dark background, had just discovered the leopard. They came closer and closer. And then let rip with their ear piercing mobbing calls. The leopard was well fed and moved off with all this interference. (But he hadn’t actually) The jackals never moved in to feed, which was odd. With the light now shining through the trees, I left. Further west, about 500m from the leopard kill, vultures were perched in a tree. Was there another kill here? I stopped to listen AND have a quick pee. Getting back in the car, the vultures all flew off straight towards the leopard kill. I went back round to find them all in a tree close by and lying on the anthill… was the leopard. He had probably been there all day, which had kept them away. AND he was probably lying in the scrub earlier, which was preventing the jackals from coming in.
It was a stalemate and I left, but returned about an hour later to find the vultures still waiting but no leopard and no kill. He’d dragged it about a hundred meters east and stashed it under a very dense Capparis thicket, where no vulture or anything dared venture. It was his for the duration…

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