Background beauty

Kruger National Park | August 2020

We as guides here on the Singita concession in the Kruger National Park have been extremely grateful for the time that has been given to us to go out into the wilderness that we all love and adore so much. The current pandemic has unfortunately halted international travellers from gracing the beautiful shores of the South African coast, but it has however allowed us to explore and have this incredible property all to ourselves. I dare to say that it has been the “silver lining” during these testing times. Two or three times a week we have been tasked with heading out to gather content for our marketing teams who have been working tirelessly putting together footage on various social media platforms.

On the 10th of August we celebrated World Lion Day and many of these content drives up until that point had been focussed on the lion prides that roam across the property, but the overall goal of these drives was to attain any beautiful or unique footage for marketing. We set off early one morning in an eager team of three, wrapped up in beanies and jackets and with the excitement of what the day could produce. We were treated to an abundance of zebra, giraffe, waterbuck, kudu and elephants to name just a few species, all with a golden glow of the morning light. It was a photographer’s dream setting. Satisfied with the footage we had gotten for the morning we started heading home for a well-deserved breakfast.

Driving towards a beautiful lookout point called Green Apple Hill, I spotted an adult bateleur perched high up in the branches of a tree on the adjacent hill from where we were. This bateleur had full adult plumage and the colours could not have been more beautiful. Armed with a good pair of binoculars I wanted to have a closer look at this perched beauty. Bringing the bird into focus and marvelling at its striking colours, I noticed a tiny bit of movement directly behind it. I fiddled with the focus of the binoculars and in a sjambok pod tree directly behind the bateleur I spied a… LEOPARD! I quickly engaged low range on the game viewer and proceeded to drive towards where the scene. As I approached I noticed that the leopard was feeding on an impala ram that he had hoisted into this tree and, to no surprise, there were three spotted hyenas at the base of the same tree, extremely frustrated with their inability to climb. It all made perfect sense why the bateleur had been perched during that time of the morning and not soaring in the rising thermals as the day was getting hotter. They will scavenge carrion and it had seen the hoisted impala with incredibly sharp eyes and decided to come and have a closer look. We got closer without interfering with the sighting and were treated to something quite special. A young male leopard leisurely feeding on the spoils of a successful hunt, and frustrated and salivating hyenas patiently waiting for anything to fall their way on the ground below. Eventually the hyenas accepted their fate and found comfortable spots to rest during the heat of the day but not venturing too far away just in case the impala was dislodged from the safety of the branches of the tree it was in. The leopard in turn then focussed 100% of his attention to feeding and draped himself along a branch and chewed and crunched away through meat, skin and cartilage. Sitting in complete silence at this stage and listening to him chewing, we were then completely caught off guard with the sound of mating leopards in the ridges no more than 200m behind us!

None of us could believe what we were experiencing at the time. Mother Nature had produced a morning that could not have been scripted better… Bush theatre at its best!

I decided to stay with this young male instead of heading into the ridges to try and find the mating pair of leopards as the terrain was not at all in our favour to do so quietly and safely.

Once the young leopard had satisfied his hunger for the time being and was certain that the carcass was safely secured in the tree, he skilfully and silently navigated his way down to some cool sand that had been shaded by the ridge the entire morning. What amazes me time and time again was how quietly he did so as none of the hyenas woke up during or after his descent. He lay down, his panting and shortness of breath from a full stomach and a rise in body temperature was only interrupted by sporadic grooming and yawning.

This experience reiterated the importance of not only focussing on the bigger and high-profile animals or rushing from sighting to sighting. It was simple… if we hadn’t stopped to admire the beauty of a single bird that we see on a regular basis, we would have definitely missed the cherry that topped our cake for the morning.