There is nothing so remarkable as arriving at the Singita Sabi Sand and encountering a leopard on the first night.  This was the case during my recent visit.  It had been a brief but rewarding sighting as a male leopard walked within a couple of feet of the Land Rover. They are such marvelous animals to watch in their natural environment. Even after spending years observing them, I still have to pinch myself, as it’s barely possible to believe that you can be in such close proximity to them in the wild.

Leopards are not only renowned for their beauty but their incredible strength combined with stealth, making them the ultimate killing machines.  Power to weight they are the strongest cat found in the world.  The male leopard we located was large. There are records of leopards this size hoisting antelope even young giraffes into large trees.  I was anticipating the opportunity of witnessing this in action, as it had been a while since I last saw this raw strength in motion.

Leopards will often hoist their kill, regardless of the size of the prey. This is mainly to protect it from scavenging predators, which are in no short supply in this area!  A short distance from a sizeable drainage line, a small duiker dangled awkwardly in a large tree.  It was rather a macabre sight to see this dead animal wedged between branches, ten feet in the air but not an uncommon visual in the Sabi Sand vicinity and this could only be the work of a leopard.

He had to be close by, the kill was fresh, blood was still trickling from the antelope’s nostrils; my heart started to pound. We scanned the area with painstaking precision, knowing how difficult it is to spot this master of disguise. Patience paid off and eventually I found the leopard seeking shelter from the blistering heat.  It was lying in long grass and with its unique rosettes it was almost impossible to see.

Now the waiting game started. I had seen the leopard and this was good enough by anyone’s standards, but to see it scramble up the tree and claim its prize was what I was after.  I made myself comfortable and positioned the vehicle close to the Apple Leaf trunk where the duiker had been stashed.  It was going to be a good while before the temperature dropped, and I could see the leopard was in no rush to expend any unnecessary energy.

After a good two hours, I heard the leopard coming up behind the vehicle; grabbing my camera I braced myself for what was going to be an incredible show. The animal gracefully leapt into the tree and claimed its trophy.  Almost immediately and on cue, three hyenas, ever the opportunists, scavenged morsels that fell from the tree while the complacent leopard fed.

It was a special moment: one hour of pure bliss where nothing else mattered but the shared company of a wild animal, watching this leopard feed while being surrounded by hyenas in the middle of the African bush. It’s moments like these that you hold on to for the rest of you life.

James Suter, Field Guide, exploring the terrain of Singita Sabi Sand.

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