Shy Leopard Cub
1st June 2019
Normally when I’m driving around at 4h30 in the morning, I’m already in my main filming area and driving really slowly, 2nd gear at the most. But leaving home this morning at that time and travelling in 3rd gear the wind-chill took on a whole new meaning. I was deep in my sleeping bag wearing a heavy jacket and scarf, no hat and no gloves. My face was fine but after 15mins my hands felt like someone was trying to pull my nails out with a pair of pliers. I stopped near a pan to sit on my hands and warm them. A lion roared in the direction I’d come from and straight after it another roared not far ahead of me. It was fairly open country and seemed a definite I’d find the lion. But alas it melted away somewhere into the darkness. Aaaah… I carried on until my hands needed warming again. I was down in the riverine vegetation. After about 5mins my hands were toasty warm and ready for another stint. A leopard called to my south. It sounded close but again I had no luck. There were several jackals going crazy mobbing something a long way north. I had to give it a bash. They were going so frantic when I was nearing the area I didn’t need to switch the engine off to hear them. Carrying on north off the road across country, fairly open savannah, I saw several jackals ahead. One ran off but the other 5 stayed, some shouting the others moving around. I couldn’t pin-point where the trouble was. There was no sign of any other eyes in the area. I drove around. Another 2 jackals were to the east AND a hyaena! Sadly the hyaena bolted when I put the light on it and I never saw it again. Then I found the remains of an adult male impala carcass. Most of it had been eaten, with just skin and bones remaining. It was lying out in the open. Was this a cheetah or wild dog kill? About 50m away was a huge fallen over dead tree, a Nyala-berry. I positioned Joanie behind it so she wouldn’t be too obvious and intimidating. The jackals were soon back, but reluctant to feed. Then they started their chorus shouting frantically. It was only just getting light and I couldn’t see much. There’s no grass here but the forbe Sida, sure makes up for it, completely obscuring the carcass from where I was. The jackal carried on frantically. Using my binoculars I could see something at the carcass. It was a young leopard. I drove a little closer, right up to the tree stump. She carried on feeding. She was completely unconcerned by the jackal. After shouting frantically for a good 10 minutes, they all turned and left without a second thought and never came back. I stayed with the leopard waiting for sunrise and some decent light to get a couple of pics. Visitors arrived, not to hassle the leopard but to hassle me. In the Knob-thorn tree next to me, first a pair of White-crowned Shrikes shouted their abuses. They were soon joined by a pair of Yellow-billed Hornbills and then a noisy scattering of Long-tailed Starlings. A Buffalo-weaver nesting in the tree was the only candidate who might have had a slight reason to carry on with tormenting me. And not to miss out on making fun of me a Black-headed Oriole came and sat at the very top of the tree. For ages they pestered me, then briefly checked out the leopard and left. Why was I being treated with such disdain?
The sun came up, but of course there had to be a tree casting its shadow over the leopard. The leopard tried moving the carcass but it was too much for her little body. Eventually, reluctant to leave, she walked towards me a few steps then moved on east. She seemed so chilled. When she was a good 50m away I tried to follow, but just starting the engine had her bolting for the trees…