The circle of life

Sabi Sand | February 2020

We have had the most incredible start to the new year, from the high rainfall that we received during the December and January months, and it has brought about fantastic vibrant colours and new life.

With new life comes new opportunities for the predators to hunt. We had an emotionally-charged sighting of a lifetime when we saw a wildebeest giving birth, only moments later to have it stolen by a large male leopard. This is how it all played out.

We set out at 5:30 in the early morning. The day was starting to come alive with the birds giving their first chirps and the hyena giving their last call for the night as the dawn breaks. We had an incredible drive after spending a few hours with a herd of elephants watching their every move, from feeding to drinking and mud wallowing. This was already something special to witness.

The time came to start to head back to the lodge as the day was progressively getting hotter and with the temperature rising we did not want to be stuck in the heat.  As we were making our way back we decided to pass a few water sources to see if there was any action out and about. We got to a waterhole and at this time my team mate Renneck spotted a female wildebeest that was showing signs of giving birth. Now a birth is possibly one of the most special things that one can witness in the bush.  We decided that we would sit tight and see what would progress. We followed the herd for about an hour ensuring not to get too close to the female as we did not want to add any additional stress. She then made her way into a shaded area and lay down, and up came the cameras thinking that this was the time. A few minutes later she got up again and moved with the herd. From here she separated herself slightly and headed into a more densely vegetated area. We sat looking on with anticipation as we peered through our binoculars. She lay down and swayed from side to side and then stood up and took a step forward. As she stepped forward the youngster popped out and the newborn was introduced to the world. This was really a jaw-dropping moment for both myself and our guests. We then watched on as the mother was cleaning the newborn as it lay on the ground. The time came for the newborn to stand up and get its balance, it struggled for about 10 minutes before actually getting its balance and being able to stand on the spot for a few second. As the time progressed the newborn become more stable on its feet and started to stumble around. Seeing the newborn dropping out and taking its first steps is something that really hits home.

Only a few seconds later we herd alarm calls from a herd of impala that were close by. Out of nowhere a large male leopard came dashing in and grabbed the newborn and proceeded to take it into a thicker more densely vegetated area. We sat there in shock as to what had just happened. To see a birth take place, only to have the newborn grabbed minutes later by a leopard. We were all at a loss for words. We had no idea that the leopard lay in a bush so well concealed waiting for his opportunity to strike.

From the alarm calls and all of the commotion, a clan of spotted hyena were attracted into the area. Next thing the leopard was trying to get away from the hyenas and dragged the carcass across the road before hoisting it into the nearest tree. The leopard then looked down at the hyena knowing that he was safe. The leopard found a good branch to balance the carcass on and then proceeded to start feeding.

This was a sighting that had emotions running high and one that could so rarely be witnessed. It was tough to see but at the same time one must remember that as one dies another will live and that is the circle of life that takes place in the bush.