Hunting with lions

It’s hazy, almost misty, the grass still green on the flat ground where the pan used to be but has now dried up. Herds of Eland and Waterbuck are making the most of the only greenery in this dry dusty landscape. I’ve stopped to type here, the morning still cold and fresh, in the hope that a badger might too decide to hunt frogs and other little things left behind from the wet days of the pan.

It was dark already last night, the moon not up yet and I was cruising my usual areas. A couple of impala alarmed to my right. I was away from the river on higher country. Savannah country with medium sized Acacias dense enough to obstruct my view into the distance, but easy enough to drive through. I left the track heading west and ducking between the Acacias was a female leopard. She had obviously been hunting but was now more concerned with my presence. She avoided me using every bush as cover, but after a while settled down and then lay down in a thicket of Acacia. I could only see the top of her head. This was yet another leopard in the same small area I’ve been concentrating on. There’s a density of these cats here that I’ve never witnessed before. A White-tailed Mongoose came foraging by. The leopard ducked low. The mongoose carried on north and I never saw the leopard again. I don’t know if she followed after the mongoose or disappeared while I was distracted.
I slowly headed north across the river. A jackal was frantically mobbing something not too far away. Arriving in the area the jackal went quiet but then I found what all the consternation was about. A lioness lying next to some Thilacium bushes. She stared at me for a second or two and then relaxed looking around. The bush was quite thick here. Small bush country with a few big Acacias. She yawned. A little while later a 2nd yawn. But before the proverbial 3rd yawn, she was up half walking towards me and past. I turned to follow her and scanning the area picked 2 more pairs of eyes. 2 male lions. They were keeping their distance from her and of course from me. I could see eyes to the south, impala scattered through the bushes. The lioness was now focused advancing at a fast walk. The ground here was bare and hard allowing her to move freely with little sound. She was using the bush as cover moving behind each one until its cover ran out and then behind the next one. She disappeared behind a bush and when I saw her again she was barreling towards the impala, but she was too far to launch an attack and with the moon already peering over the tree tops her cover was quickly blown and the impala took off. The bewilderment on her face at not having caught anything was priceless. But for someone who’s seen this time and again, I wasn’t surprised she’d missed. She obviously wasn’t relying on stealth or an ambush attack. She was running in to cause confusion and have impala running in all directions hoping one would run over her. While standing around in her bewildered state another lioness joined her, rubbing her face along her body as if to say “Don’t worry my dear, there will be another time”.
These girls took me south in the deep riverine. It was fairly open here. A bushbaby jumped easily out the way, bouncing from branch to branch into the higher canopy of an Acacia galpinii. The lions reached the river and walked northwest in the sandy riverbed. I followed up on the bank. A long way behind us the males followed. They would no doubt come rushing in if the girls killed and steal their kill from them. A lion roared several times to the south. The lions I was with kept quiet. Were they on hallowed ground? They crossed the river. I now had to rely on Joanie. The bank I was on was steep, but going down is never really a problem. Would I be able to get out the other side? Joanie worked hard crossing the soft sandy river using her lowest gears to grind her way across. I found an area on the far bank that wasn’t sheer and had a slight slope. Joanie worked her magic, her front wheels instantly grabbing the firmer ground and hoisting us up the bank. On top there was more sand, from the cyclone, where the girls were now resting. I couldn’t see the boys, but they were no doubt fully in control of the whereabouts of the girls. We slept here a couple of hours. Every now and then a baboon coughed from high up in its roost north of us. Was the cooler weather getting the better of him? I dosed off and must have missed the yawns but saw the girls heading north. They crossed back over the river. This time beyond Joanie’s capabilities, the banks sheer on my side and dense Croton on the far bank. We tried going round, but it was a long way and I never did pick up the girls again.
The sun is now high and the waterbuck have returned to graze. And……. no sign of any badgers… ☹

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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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Prickly affair

The sun had set a while ago, but the moon almost full, was making sure it didn’t really get dark. I was just coming out the riverine having crossed the river and there he was, my friend, the young male leopard. There was a slight clearing where a dead Acacia galpinii stood. One of its main branches had fallen to the ground but was still attached about 2m up. The huge branch lay almost parallel to the ground and in that ‘typical’ leopard pose he was lying along it. It was as if he’d been waiting for me to go hunting, cos as I arrived he dropped off the branch and headed west. I tried to follow but the bush was too dense. I went back to the track, headed north and then followed it west a couple of kilometres before turning back. The night was warm and I was still in my shorts. The moon was only just bobbing around over the tall Nyala-berry trees as I continued east. Eyes to the south coming out of the riverine. I left the track moving around some young Acacias and found them again. It was the young male leopard coming towards me. (Was he really interested in my company?) I stopped. He sniffed at the base of a young Nyala-berry and continued on north. He was in great shape and looking fairly well fed. Some holes among some Sida bushes had him sniffing there too. There was a slight rise further north. When he could he stopped to peer over it scanning the area. Impala were about a hundred meters away feeding. Keeping himself low to the ground he glided towards another Nyala-Berry tree. Around the base of the tree were a number of excavations. Old and new warthog burrows. He was easily distracted and was sniffing around them, the impala appearing to be a distant memory. The excavations were ‘big’ and he lay down in one only his head sticking out. A pose I’ve seen him do on several occasions before. There didn’t appear to be anything there. He got up, “Ah yes, those impala”, the mind of a youngster. He moved into the shadow of the tree cast by the moon.

There was an old Nyala-berry log lying there, which he snuggled up against lying on the ground. The impala were feeding about 70m away. He waited as if hoping they might come closer. I was looking around in the moonlight and to my south moving around the small Sida bushes was a Genet. It seemed to be following his tracks and heading straight towards me. Then it veered off west to the base of another Nyala-berry. Just then the leopard got up but moved east, in a slow hurry, ignoring the impala. Something else had caught his attention. At another Nyala-berry he moved around the base south, came back sniffing and moved around to the north. As I came round the tree I saw the porcupine. In his casual way the leopard walked up to the porcupine obviously not expecting what was coming. With its quills flared like a raging bulls nostrils it charged backwards into the leopard. The sound of rattling quills and the porcupine stamping its feet on the ground, together with the backwards charge had the youngster jumping up and backwards like only a cat can. Round 1 goes to the porcupine. The porcupine trotted south its quills still flared. The leopard was close behind. They moved into a Sand-paper bush thicket that hung low to the ground. Big mistake by the porcupine because now its flared quills got caught up in the branches if it charged backwards. The leopard realised this and approached from the front. Porcupine turned. Leopard moved around again. The porcupine turned. Reaching his paw out gently as if testing to see if something is hot, the leopard tested the quills but got a huge fright again jumping back when the porcupine stamped its feet. The stalemate went on for a while. Then bored with the game the porcupine slowly moved out the bush and continued south. Leopard followed but he’d trot around ahead of the porcupine and wait for it, only to jump out the way when it got to him. It appeared this rodent had outsmarted him as they disappeared into the Croton thickets along the river bank…

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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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Mating leopards

Driving with the orange glow of sunset was behind me, I was approaching a number of Nyala berry tree skeletons with an array of vultures. Had they come to bed here for the night, or was there more? I stopped a little further on and busied myself with getting dressed for the night. Well of course I was dressed already, but this was readying myself for the cold. For some reason it always seems to take forever, but then I do have time on my side. I had stopped near the area where I saw the leopard yesterday. A young Nyala berry tree stood guard over the track in front to my right. Further to my right, south, the bush got thicker going into the dense riverine along the river. To my left was fairly open savannah with medium sized Acacias. I was just pulling my overall on when peering from behind the Nyala berry a big male giraffe had come to watch my antics. He too obviously had time on his hands. He was a handsome dark brute, his ossicones appearing to touch the evening star way up there, while he stood absolutely motionless staring down at me. My insignificant little self down under. Just then a leopard grunted behind him. The giraffe didn’t change a beat and continued to look down at me. The grunt was slow and deep. Most likely a male. It sounded too old to be my friend. I continued to get dressed. Yes it takes time… A couple of minutes later, a much more refined grunt behind me. A female or my little friend. Finally dressed I headed back west in the direction of the ‘female’. I drove through a patch of soft sand, deposited from the cyclone, and among some small Acacias, I saw her crouched low. She wasn’t happy to see me. Keeping her body as low to the ground as possible she turned on herself and disappeared behind a bush.
Appearing the other side she shuffled quickly across the track and disappeared into the dense undergrowth. Not being able to follow her I drove on a little down the track and stopped to listen. A Scops owl was calling from a tall Acacia. Eventually, with all quiet, I decided to try and photograph the vulture silhouettes against the stars. Heading back on the track I’d come along I was shining my spotlight from side to side. It was very open to my north. To the south, young Acacias blocked my view. Then through a clearing I saw some eyes. I took the gap, the Acacias doing a good job of scratching Joanie. Ahead of me was that donga (gully) from the cyclone and on the other side were 2 leopards! The male had joined up with the female. He was chilled but she immediately ducked into the donga. He didn’t lose time, followed her into the donga, and I just had to sit there and listen to them mating. A most awesome sound! A short while later she left the donga using every little bush she could to conceal herself, sneaking across in front of me until she reached an Acacia tree.

She pulled up behind the tree trunk, then peaked around to see me. We watched each other for a while as she kept peering over to her mate. Having satisfied her curiosity and realising I wasn’t a threat she walked normally into the dense riverine following after the male. I tried to follow, keeping to the southern edge of the donga. Eyes to the west. But it wasn’t them. A civet lay close to the ground, somehow believing it was concealed. I drove closer and closer and it stayed put. Eventually I was out the car photographing it, until after some time it got up and sauntered off into the bush…

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My leopard friend

The lions were roaring to the south but I couldn’t work out how far it was, especially as they’d woken me from my nap. The riverine vegetation between me and them was no doubt cutting off their calls, so they were hopefully closer than they sounded. I crossed the river south through the dense Croton and out onto the savannah where I stopped to listen. That sexy tiny slither of a moon was just above the eastern horizon. Dawn would be here soon. It was still and chilly. A Scops owl chirped to the east and another responded to the south. Their little chirp, so repetitive and with perfect timing between each call, and yet still it adds that extra soothing peace to the night. Not to be out done, a Pearl-spotted owl started up right next to me, it’s calling rising higher and higher and finishing off with a long drawn out whistle. Such a typical sound of our bushveld. This called was answered by another 2 Pearl-spotted owls calling to the west. I felt like I was witnessing an owl sing off. The Scops’s kept going and the Pearl-spotted’s seemed to be rising their pitches higher and higher. As the orange of dawn crept in on the eastern horizon so the owls went quiet. The lions didn’t entertain me again. Ground Hornbills were now thundering their calls down the river. Just then a Jackal was mob calling north of the river, where I was earlier. I had crossed the river, through the riverine and was crossing the huge gully formed by the cyclone. That gully where I’d filmed my leopard friend some time ago. I crossed the gully and there he was again, stalking around a small acacia. It was day and he was a little nervous. I switched off. He came out from behind his bush and walked, his body slung low, almost imagining he was invisible to me. He crossed into the gully, out the other side and headed off into the forest. I presumed he was the reason for the jackal going crazy. But then the jackal started up again, still further north. It was open savannah. The jackal wasn’t far away and continued to shout as I approached. Not wanting to scare him, I moved around him to the east, as I kept looking west with the light in my favour. I was watching him intently as Joanie eased along and then… CRASH!!! Both front wheels landed smack bang into a hole and Joanie came to a grinding halt. My knees slammed into the dashboard. An old warthog burrow was the culprit. Thankfully with the work I’d done on Joanie last week, she held out strong and no damage was visible. With a bit of low range 4×4-ing I was soon out of their. The jackal not concerned with my problems continued to shout. Another jackal arrived from the east. They greeted with the first jackal rolling on its back submissively. Soon another jackal arrived. They all rummaged around the area for a few minutes, the 2 new arrivals also seemingly wondering what all the performance was about. Off they went north and didn’t return. What all the shouting was about was a mystery. I think maybe my leopard friend had slunk off without him seeing and he continued to shout anyway…

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Joanie has a make-over.

It was nearly a week ago now when I heard many extra rattles coming from Joanie. I pulled up on a clear sandy bar where I could crawl around in the clean soft sand and do a good investigation of the underneath of Joanie. It wasn’t long and I found several rattles with some steel pipes from the bull-bar broken. A closer look revealed a seriously broken chassis. The cross member in front was broken cleanly off on both sides. All just years and years of metal fatigue and of course with a little rough driving thrown in… I took it easy back to camp and then the long process started.

I stripped her right down and rebuilt the front part of the chassis. 5 days!!!! later and she’s better than new.

Leopards were mating again last night. In the same area I’ve had them before. This time we were down in the tall open riverine where, right now there is no under-storey. The ground cover on the alluvial soils is all but non-existent. The dry season is really upon us, and we’ve still got 4 months before the rains. The stars seemed extra bright with no sign of the moon until the early hours. The mating sounds came from the south. I followed the Southern Cross as it peeped just above the tree tops. It was easy going and I only had to divert slightly off my direction for the odd fallen tree. I stopped to listen again. It was quiet and still down there. Only a few crickets chirped and some impala, still in rut mode, roared off in the west. Then a leopard grunted to my north. I had somehow missed them. I picked up on a track and headed north and was crossing the river to the east when I saw her sitting proud on island in the river. I couldn’t get there, but managed to go round onto the opposite bank and watch her from there. She was sitting proud looking around and then like water slunk off down the bank and disappeared. Was she off to find a secluded spot to be with her mate? They were quiet for the rest of the night and it was only at dawn as I left the area that I got brief glimpse of the male as he melted away yet again…

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My Leopard friend

18th June 2019
I had just come through the riverine woodland and was crossing the hard furrowed ground from the cyclone, a little drainage line running parallel to the river, and there was a pair of eyes close to the ground. Engaging 1st gear low range, Joanie eased over the hard ground, into a gully and out again. The eyes were just ahead staring at me. It was a leopard, which appeared to be lying at the entrance of a burrow. As I moved closer, it lowered itself into the burrow. I was now super excited. Was this a female with tiny cubs underground? I didn’t want to disturb her, but of course I also wanted to see the cubs. Joanie sat tight in silence. The moon was full. I didn’t need my light. A young Nyala berry tree cast a long shadow down another gully in front of me where a couple of Acacia bushes were lying flattened to the ground weighed down with debris from the floods. The leopard relaxed and came out the hole to lie at the entrance. It was so chilled. Surely the cubs must come out soon. I put a light on and with my binoculars scanned the hole and then I saw, it wasn’t a female but the young male leopard I had a few days ago on that impala carcass. It wasn’t long and curiousity got the better of him. In a half stalk he started circling Joanie. It was amazing to watch just in the light of the moon. A leopard grunted a long way south, he looked up briefly and continue to suss me out. He kept using the little flattened Acacias as cover until he’d gone the whole way round, then headed west in one of the gullies. I followed along the top and every now and then he’d pop his head over the top to see my progress. The gully ended a couple of hundred meters on. Before jumping out he gave me a long curious stare, then gracefully jumped out and I followed him as he ambled along the edge of the woodland sniffing here and there. Then up into a Rain tree and slouched on the horizontal stem. That classic leopard pose. I couldn’t believe it. Here as a totally wild leopard that had never been followed by a vehicle before and he was just chilling in the tree 20m away. Then suddenly ‘awake’ again, like flowing water he left the tree. Impala ahead, to the north. He didn’t seem to notice the giraffe to the east and they ran on seeing him. Startled he scooted up a nearby Nyala berry. With the giraffe gone, the impala still there, he continued to approach. He had lots of cover from the Sida forbes growing all around, only the top of his back sticking out. It was a small herd of females with one male that kept herding them. The leopard was now 50m off. He waited. Maybe they’d be herded towards him. Slowly they drifted away. Again he approached and waited. Some of the impala were feeding. I could hear elephants feeding in the mopane a few hundred meters away and a pair of Three-banded Coursers were calling to each other. Otherwise the night was quiet. Very different from the last full moon when there was hardly a minutes silence through the night with impala roaring in every direction during the rut. The impala were now walking straight towards him. He was flat, only the tips of his ears visible. His body started to squirm like any cat ready to pounce. Then a female broke the ranks to get away from the male. The others followed and off they ran west, away from the leopard. He trotted after them past an old ‘skeleton’ of a huge fallen over Nyala berry tree, but was suddenly distracted. A Dwarf Mongoose had broken cover from the tree. He was after it. But of course it had another escape hole and disappeared. He continued to search for the others, all now shouting their alarms. Just a big kitty playing mouse games. They soon ended and we headed east. He was still amazingly relaxed in my presence and almost went about his business as if I didn’t exist. A fallen over Leadwood branch got lots of attention. No doubt another leopard had marked there. Then on to a clump of Crocodile Bark trees. Not easy to climb but up he went into the upper branches. I thought he might have had an old kill up there. Nothing. I stopped on the edge of the overhanging branches and watched his antics. Down the tree and up the tree. He climbed along the branch straight towards me and lay there peering down at me no more than 3m away. We had a long chat. Thankfully he listened to my wise words… Because then he left the tree and came right up to my door and sat down about 2m away. I was watching him in the moonlight and couldn’t see his eyes, but knew he was watching mine. I smiled, closed and opened my eyes being sure to look relaxed and not threatening. For ages we watched each other. With a one small leap he could be in the car. I continued to talk to him with my eyes. It looked like he might just jump aboard, just to see what Joanie was all about. Eventually, with no more to say, he turned, gave the tree another sniff and headed south. He had several more hunting attempts after impala. Maybe the moon was blowing his cover. I’d been following him for nearly 5hrs when we were back where we’d started. He crossed the gullies and continued on south into the dense riverine. Did he know I couldn’t follow? No doubt we will again be spending another night together sometime.

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