May 2021

Patience and Perseverance

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Patience and Perseverance

“If you have infinite patience and perseverance, success is bound to come. No mistake in that.” - Swami Vivekananda

Something I always try and communicate to my guests, is that patience and perseverance are two of the best weapons in your arsenal when it comes to working or spending time in the bush. Nature always works on its own time and in order for us to reap its rewards, we must learn to practice and master these two particular qualities. When it comes to finding leopards, this becomes even more apparent, as we experienced recently with a wonderful group of guests who had been on many safaris and understood the method. 

It all started before our morning game drive, as Ruel and I drove through to Boulders Lodge in the dark, we came across the Schotia young male leopard (now named the ‘Kangela’ male - which means to look at you with curious eyes). He made his way further into the darkness and into an inaccessible area, thus we left him to go and meet our guests. 

We took a deep breath of fresh, early morning, crisp air, filled with promise as we headed out before the sunrise hoping to come across one of these magnificent cats, little did we know that our morning would turn into a test of our patience and perseverance. Stopping to listen to the calls of the bush is a very important step. It is often in the moments when we slow down that so much around us comes alive... We listened for a few moments, watching as the sun began to peak over the horizon, however it was quiet, no alarm calls and no vocalisation from the spotted cats we were in search of. 

It didn’t take long before we came across a perfect set of tracks, imprinted into the soft sand of Pangolin Road, south of the lodges. We noticed that the tracks belonged to not one, but two leopards who had been walking along the road together. We got out of the vehicle and inspected further, beginning to piece together the imaginative visuals of what appeared to have been a female leopard and her cub moving along the sandy road.  

These tracks began to move toward the lodges and in the back of our minds, Ruel and I knew we had seen the young male in the early hours of the morning. Now with a time frame to work with, we continued to follow the tracks, knowing that we must be able to find the mother if she had left the cub and continued on her way just before we had seen him. This made perfect sense and we all revved up with excitement, all working together to now use our senses and watch for any little clue that might help us find her. Exactly as we imagined, we found her footprints, moving away from the cubs, toward an open clearing.

It was here that again, Ruel and I got off the vehicle, trying our best to make sense of the movement made by this female leopard. A leopard can be very light on its feet so one can quickly loose the tracks if the substrate isn’t smooth or clear. It was here that our patience began to be tested, the tracks disappeared... While the guests scanned for any movement or sounds made around us, I walked in one direction, whilst Ruel walked in the other... nothing. That was until I came across a mess of helmeted guinea fowl feathers, splayed all over the ground with a single leopard track close by. “She was here’! I called out to Ruel and the guests, it was another clue, however there was no leopard or carcass of the unfortunate bird in sight. We all looked together as Ruel showed us where she ate the guinea fowl and then moved off.

More than an hour of tracking had passed, as we followed, got off the vehicle, walked, investigated and continued downstream along the eastern part of the Sand River still doing our best to find this fast becoming ‘myth’ of a leopard. Typically, many of our guests would become quite agitated and want to continue the drive, looking for something else. It almost seemed as if all hope was lost. However, not for this group - we were intent on working out the rest of the story, walking in the past of this female leopard’s movements and edging closer to her whereabouts. Perseverance was at play.

It was then, that we noticed a seemingly unsettled herd of impala. Our first thought was that perhaps she had attempted to hunt or had made her way through the area, making the impala very wary of any other movement. This was in fact true and we realised this when we spotted both scat as well as another set of tracks moving past the area of the nervous antelope. As I drove along listening to the guides’ radio comms, I could hear, via my earpiece, that other guides had found and observed two other leopards much further south of us. The frustration was beginning to build, but we continued...

The tracks became clearer and clearer and a new rush of motivation swirled through the vehicle. We were now further away from the river and had almost made an entire loop back toward the original tracks when we spotted her, the Schotia female leopard, relaxing on the side of the road!

One can’t quite explain the utter feeling of relief and success in what was more than two hours of tracking this beautiful female. It is one of those moments where tears could quite easily drop from the eyes, however we just gazed in complete bliss as we watched the Schotia female enjoying the shade. We did it!

Just as Swami Vivekananda had said, “Success is bound to come. No mistake in that”. After working so hard that morning, testing both Ruel and I as well as our guests’ patience and perseverance, we were rewarded. 

That afternoon we were again with the Kangela male, who had moved away from where his mother left him in the morning. He was out exploring his independence, when we heard his mother’s calls from the exact place, she left him. His ears pricked up, looking directly towards where we heard the rasping call of a female leopard and began to run, calling softly as he went, letting his mother know he could hear her. They met in a loving embrace as they rubbed heads and curled their tails around each other. It was completely and absolutely beautiful, however the rewards didn’t stop there. Schotia female continued to lead her youngster toward an impala ram carcass which she had killed during the day. 

Darkness was falling quickly and we knew that it was only a matter of time before a hyena would locate the un-hoisted carcass. The two of them fed as quickly as possible but the inevitable happened and we watched into the later hours of the evening as a clan of hyenas moved in and stole the carcass from the leopards. It was an unbelievable end to our day as we headed back to the lodge, feeling extremely privileged and fulfilled after a brilliant day in the bush.

If you thought the story ends there, then you are mistaken... there was one more cherry to be added to the top of these incredible few days.

We started our morning game drive, yet again on the search for Schotia female and her youngster to complete our story. Of course, this time we had an idea of where we had left them the night before and decided to make our way into that area in order to see what the rest of the night’s happenings were. As I drove up the eastern road along our airstrip, we all noticed a herd of elephants to our right, I continued a bit further and as I drove, I quickly had a glimpse to the left, LEOPARD! In that moment we all turned our gaze to the left and watched in amazement as the Schotia female ran up the side of our terminal building roof, all the way to the top! 

Photograph by Ross Couper.

We couldn’t believe our eyes! This was something I don’t believe any of our guides had witnessed and so I quickly called Ross and Gareth who were working the area close-by to come and have a look. Two leopards, now both on top of the Singita Sabi Sand terminal building, beginning to be cast in the golden light of the sun rising behind them. This was completely unexpected but undoubtedly the best ending to an incredible few days on safari. 

Our patience and perseverance rewarded us with unforgettable leopard viewing experiences. From hours of tracking, to listening, taking our time, finding and finally spending quality time in the presence of these exquisite big cats - it was all worth it! The next time you are on safari, remember - Patience and perseverance are the best weapons in your arsenal and there is no mistake... success is bound to come!

Chene Wales-Baillie
By Chene Wales-Baillie
Field Guide