Patience pays off
Leopard viewing on the Singita concession in the Kruger National Park has been nothing short of incredible over the past few weeks. In the absence of the larger lion prides who usually dominate the area as the apex predator, it has given the smaller, more elusive and secretive of the big cats the position of centre stage.
Regular sightings of the recently named Euphorbia and Mbiri Mbiri male leopards have been highlights of many a guest stay. Hoisted kills in the tallest and skinniest of apple-leaf trees and funny interactions with giraffe and the notoriously grumpy buffalo bulls have had us as guides and trackers in absolute stitches.
The highlight for me was when the newly independent Euphorbia male made a kill a few mornings ago. Our guiding team of Garry Bruce and the larger-than-life personality of Solly Ndlovu, noticed some giraffe staring into the grass one misty winter’s morning. After some very efficient scanning of the area in question, a beautiful young male leopard was discovered. One of my guests was celebrating their birthday and a leopard in the golden morning light was definitely going to be the cherry on the birthday cake. We joined the sighting as quickly as possible and, to our delight, discovered that he had set his eyes on some impala that were within striking distance.
Due to the patience and skill beyond this young cat’s years, we witnessed something that not too many safari goers get to experience… a leopard hunt and kill from start to finish! We dropped back and kept a good distance from the event that was unfolding in front of us as to not affect the chances of the predator making a successful hunt or that of the prey to escape and live another day. The Safari Gods were on our side! Sneaking between the tall grasses, silently approaching and avoiding the ever-aware impala herd, this leopard got closer and closer. Just when we thought he was close enough, the impala would move away and out of range. He then tried again, dropping onto his belly and crawling into a new position, knowing all too well that if even one impala saw him, the hunt would be over.
We all knew as well as he did that he must keep the element of surprise on his side if he was to succeed. Closer and closer he stalked, freezing dead in his stride when impala eyes stared in his general area. You could literally hear a pin drop as we were all holding our breath, waiting for the burst of speed that would surely bring a quick death… but again the impala moved away. A nosey spotted hyena grabbed the attention of the impala and they made a small dash even further away from the stalking leopard. Surely the opportunity was gone now but we were again amazed at the patience and resilience of this leopard.
During the small scatter caused by the hyena, we noticed a female impala struggling to keep up with the rest of the herd. We weren’t the only one who noticed and the leopard quickly found new inspiration to keep on the trail of these impala and we all sensed that it was not over yet! As we were repositioning our vehicle, we missed the fact that the limping impala had taken some shelter in a thicket as she could not keep up with the rest of the herd. The leopard hadn’t noticed it either, but due to his incredible patience and calculated approach, he became aware of her position when she flicked her ear to chase away a pesky fly that was buzzing around her head. In an approach that was perfectly executed, the leopard got within five metres of the completely unaware impala, paused for what seemed like an eternity, and then exploded into action. The impala reacted and jumped in an attempt to evade the charging cat but was too slow. He caught her mid-air with his front left paw, razor-sharp claws fully exposed, catapulting his body around hers and pinning her down. In the split second that followed he clamped down with a powerful bite into the back of her neck, severing the spinal column almost instantly. There was only a small bleat and then silence…
In absolute disbelief of what we had just seen, the leopard dragged his limp prize to a very large leadwood tree and in yet another display of power and grace, hoisted the impala and wedged it between the branches. Content in his performance for the morning, he climbed further up into the tree and found a comfortable branch to straddle and rest.
A birthday surprise to never forget.