June 2024

An Unexpected Encounter


An Unexpected Encounter

Crossing the Sand River early on a crisp winter morning always holds lots of excitement and uncertainty. The northern reaches of Singita consist of dense thickets, sparse marula groves and wide stretches of river. The beauty of this area lies in its sense of true wilderness. Due to very few game viewers moving here, you never know what to expect, which makes it both exciting and challenging at times.

This particular morning, we crossed in hopes of finding a pack of wild dogs. We were the only vehicle in the north, looking for any signs of the pack reported there the day before. After searching for three hours to no avail, it seemed likely that we weren’t going to be successful in our search for Africa’s second most endangered carnivore.

We were just about to close down for a break and enjoy a lovely cup of coffee at a beautiful lookout over the river, when we noticed a herd of impala nearby. They were all looking in the same direction - quiet but very focused. Then they started alarm-calling and Musa and I knew it wouldn’t be for the pack, as impalas don’t usually alarm for wild dogs. They were almost certainly alarming for another predator.

As we got closer to the now frantic herd of impala, we saw a young male leopard suffocating a female impala. We recognised him as the Kangela male. He had her pinned on the ground at the base of a jackalberry tree. She was still alive but fading quickly. The rest of the herd were all now a mere 30 meters from him snorting wildly. The sound they made was phenomenal, and would certainly alert any scavengers in the area of the presence of both a predator and a potential carcass!

As he dragged his kill up the tree, a clan of two hyenas ran towards the snorting impalas and jumped at the dangling feet of the impala. But, just in the nick of time, he managed to secure his kill up the tree! As he dragged the carcass higher up into a more secure position another two hyenas joined frantically on the ground. And if that was not enough excitement happening in front of us, Musa (who I have been working with for seven years) shouted, “Leopard, leopard, leopard!”

A much bigger male leopard, known as Hlambela male, ran past the four hyenas and up the tree towards Kangela - who still had no idea of his presence. After a short but violent tussle, the leopards and the dead impala came tumbling out the tree, right in the middle of an excited clan of hyenas, who couldn’t believe their luck! While Kangela ran back up the tree to gather his wits, the older Hlambela went towards a termite mound. All the while the four hyenas tucked into a free meal!

Another couple of minutes passed by when Hlambela decided that the first attack was not sufficient. He ran back towards the younger male who was now high up in the tree, and another short battle ensued! The younger Kangela male fell out of the tree a second time amongst the feeding hyenas! He proceeded to run back up the tree and was attacked for a third time! He then lay motionless on the ground.

After 10 more minutes passed by the hyenas finished feeding and the Hlambela male launched a final attack that was brief and brutal. The fight attracted the hyenas and all we could see was fur, furry and claws!