Some cats just don’t like to share
In Kapama, we’re lucky to have a couple of relaxed resident leopards that carry on about their business as if we’re not there. One such leopard, a female, was recently spotted enjoying a hard-earned impala kill with her two cubs, high up in a tree and out of reach from the hyenas lurking below. Leopards with kills often stick around for a few days, so the morning after this incredible sighting we decided to head off early with the hope of spending more time with them.
Bleary-eyed, wrapped up in all manner of jackets, blankets, scarves, and gloves, and clutching hot water bottles to fend off the crisp winter chill, we set off into the pre-dawn darkness. As we approached the huge jackal-berry tree where the previous night’s show had taken place, we scanned, but didn’t immediately spot her. If it weren’t for Freeman, my tracker, and his well-honed leopard spotting skills, we might have missed her.
“Over there.” He pointed, casually. We turned as she melted into view against a backdrop of exposed granite rock. We approached slowly, trying to get the morning sun behind us to maximize the golden light that makes wildlife photography so rewarding at this time of the year.
But something was clearly not right. She was moving away from the jackal-berry tree, but kept glancing back, and as she got closer we noticed that she was injured. The small laceration on her stomach area didn’t seem to slow her down, but she wasn’t as fit and healthy when we had left her the previous night. Why was she injured? Where were the cubs? And why did she keep looking behind her?
All three questions were answered with the sudden appearance of a very large male leopard with bloodstained jaws. He had obviously stolen her kill and she was injured in her attempt to protect her cubs.
As the leopardess moved away, calling softly for her unseen cubs, he stalked out from behind the jackal-berry tree, scuffing the ground with his hind legs and spraying to mark his territory. As if she’d had enough of him, she bolted past the vehicle and disappeared down into a dry riverbed. Not 15 meters away from our vehicle, the large male growled angrily as he watched her leave.
Over a warming coffee stop in a patch of sunlight, we mulled over what we had just seen and tried not to worry about the missing cubs. Sometimes, the most incredible and memorable sightings are those tinged with sadness, but we all agreed that it’s generally best to trust nature’s way and to be thankful for the opportunity to witness it.
Written by: Garry Bruce
Kapama Southern Camp
Note: The cubs are still alive and well and are well on their way to being as relaxed as their mother.
Not just a cackling scavenger…
Though many think of them only as pilfering scavengers that feed off the efforts of other predators’ hard work, spotted hyenas are so much more interesting. They’re hunters as well as scavengers, and like most animals they’re fiercely protective of their young.
Guests are usually quite happy to see them, even if not so happy to smell them, but it’s unusual for them to ask to see hyenas specifically. So when guests, Mary and Mark Degut, climbed on my vehicle for their evening drive and told me to find them some hyenas, I took them straight to an active den.
We arrived in time to see a couple of pups out and about, but it was the three adults running around the den in their loping manner that immediately caught our attention. They were agitated, clearly uphappy as they loped back and forth marking their territory, so I kept my eyes open for other predators.
Before I could even say the word ‘leopard’, let alone take a picture, the culprit had zipped across the road and bolted into dense bush with three adult hyenas hot on her heels. We watched until they were out of sight and listened for sounds of a fight that never came.
Leopards, like hyenas, are well-known opportunists. Had those pups been playing alone and unprotected outside their den, that leopardess wouldn’t have hesitated before snatching one up for dinner. To be fair, if those hyenas had come across a leopard cub, they’d have done the same. This time, however, everyone made it out alive, and we breathed a sigh of relief. Naturally, it took a few moments before what we’d just seen sunk in, and another few before any of us could complete a full sentence!
It was one of those quick, unexpected sightings that only last for a second or two, but stay with you for a long time. And it was a firm reminder that for predators, including the ungainly hyena, survival is hardly a picnic.
Written by: Francois van Rhyn
Kapama Southern Camp
With the Murphy family as my guests on the game drive vehicle, we were making our way to an area south of Southern Camp. I knew there were three lions in the area, but I clearly told the Murphys that while they may see lions, leopards were elusive and they were definitely not guaranteed of seeing them. My words weren’t cold when we spotted a female leopard lying down in the open, relaxed as could be.
Somehow, I instinctively knew she was not alone. Shortly after we spotted her, the leopard got up and crouched into a stalking position. But there was no prey in sight. What she was actually doing was cautiously making her way out of the area, as she was intruding on lion territory. She knew it and a resident lioness also knew the leopard was about – and wanted her out of her domain. If the leopard didn’t leave of her own accord, she’d be forcefully chased out.
When leopards feel threatened by another predator, they will either try and make their way out of the area or find a tree to climb for safety – out of the reach of lions. This exact scenario played out the very next morning on our game drive.
Not long into our drive, we came upon a male leopard up a tree. He was not there willingly either – the lions lying around the base of the tree had clearly chased him up as he was a threat to their territory. In the same way, leopards often drag their kills into trees to keep them out of the reach of opportunistic lions and hyenas. But today’s sighting was different, and there was no kill in sight. It was simply a territorial battle.
Sometimes, finding the unexpected is just plain luck – and, of course, being in the right place at the right time. Finding leopards is never easy because they are solitary and elusive; finding them two days in a row is something special; and witnessing a silent territorial tug of war is an extremely rare sighting indeed. Something unforgettable for us all.
Story: Adolph Niemand – ranger at Southern Camp
Photos: Lily Murphy
Edited by Keri Harvey
Hello my name is Garry. I am a ranger at Kapama Southern Camp and I am an addict. I am addicted to leopard, but I have been clean for three days now. I really want to quit, I do, but I can’t do it alone. I need help.
Everyone has their own vices; mine is just a little different. I need a regular leopard fix. Luckily, I had one just a few days ago, and so did the guests who were with me. Often, leopard sightings are fleeting, but they are always worth it. This time was no different. Just a glimpse, but it was enough.
These fascinating cats are aware of my affliction – I am sure of it – and they tempt and tease me on every game drive, with their perfect paw prints clearly visible on the sand roads on which we drive. It’s almost as if they are sending me the message that they are around, but I need to earn even the briefest glimpse of them. These short moments of sightings just exacerbate my problem, and so my thirst for seeing leopard is never ever satisfied.
This time was different. The morning was a cold one, with the frontal system from the Cape dropping temperatures very low. We had been searching for elephants that seemed to be hiding in the thick bush to escape the cold weather. With no luck seeing them, my tracker, Richard Silinda, and I decided to move to Plan B, which was a stop for hot coffee to warm up.
As I turned off the road and headed towards one of my favourite rest stops, something flashed past the corner of my eye. Instinctively I thought it was a lioness, so I turned onto the road towards her. We all scanned the area where she had crossed but there was no lioness in sight. Then, in an open area and lit by the golden glow of morning sunshine, sat a large male leopard staring right back at us.
Richard glanced back at me and smiled as he said: “Ingwe”, which means leopard in the Shangaan language. But the guests on board had already spotted the magnificent big cat and were frantically searching for their cameras – coffee was long forgotten. For just a few short moments, he stared back at us and then calmly walked back into the bush.
I can only speak for myself, but I am sure all of us felt intoxicated by the beauty of this elusive animal. I shifted the Landcruiser into low range and began to follow him slowly. We are only permitted to leave the track for high-profile species, so we followed him for about 20 minutes – taking care not to get to close or to drive directly behind him. This was a truly exceptional experience, as the leopard was completely relaxed and so showed us a little of his world for a few special minutes.
Written by: Garry Bruce, Ranger at Kapama Southern Camp
Edited by Keri Harvey
One morning my guests asked to leave half an hour earlier so we left at 06:30am. After driving for about 30 minutes we found some fresh rhino tracks and decided to follow them. After following for a while, we found lion tracks on top of the fresh rhino tracks – the lions were close.
Tracking for only 10 minutes, we found the lions. They were stalking some kudu by the looks of things. As the lions started running, we tried to follow. As we were driving through the bush, I heard what sounded like two cats fighting so we rushed over to see what was happening.
My tracker turned around and shouted “LEOPARD LEOPARD” and we saw the leopard in a tree with the three female lionesses anxiously waiting below it. Suddenly, the leopard jumps out of the tree with hopes to get away but instead had to face the three aggressive lionesses. After a while, the leopard decided to run as fast as her legs could carry her and get away, otherwise she would certainly lose her life.
Unfortunately, the leopard was too slow and one of the lions grabbed her on the neck. At first we thought it was over but as soon as the lion’s grip was slightly too loose, she took the chance and ran into a warthog hole for safety.
Luckily for the leopard, she got away with her life but this does not happen very often. If lions get the chance to kill any competition they will take it. These three lionesses lay down close by the warthog whole until finally they gave up and moved away.
My guests and I were shocked at what had just happened but we were all glad that the leopard was alright.
Bryan – Kapama River Lodge
This evening started off quite cold and we did not expect to see much. It was an overcast evening and it got dark earlier than usual so we stopped for some drinks. Just as we were about to pack up the drinks we heard the call of a Leopard in the area. I asked the guests to jump in their seats so that we can try find this amazing animal.
We drove into the bushy area where the sound came from but we could not find her. Alfred, my tracker, and colleague, Kim, decided to make our approach back to the road with the hope that we might find her there. She was in the middle of the road and then moved off into the bush and we then followed her and lost her.
We found the female Leopard again and she approached a warthog hole. She tapped with her feet at the entrance of the hole and out came about four warthogs, one big female with her little ones. I am not sure how many they were. Everything happened so quickly. They were all over the place and confused the Leopard.
She missed three of them, one actually ran straight into her face and she didn’t manage to catch it. But, eventually, she killed one right in front of us and another just a little further away. After all this exhilarating excitement, we found a spotted Hyena coming along. It stole one of the Warthogs the leopard had killed so the female leopard ran for safety into a tree and waited for the scavenger to leave the area. She then slowly got out of the tree and made her way to the other kill which, during all this commotion, she managed to hide away from any threat. Finally she could enjoy her feast in peace and silence.
This was truly a once in a lifetime experience and we will remember this moment for the rest of our lives.
Janco Du Plessis