Wow. That is the only word that comes to mind when I look back at the things that I was lucky enough to see today – without doubt one of the best days of game viewing I have enjoyed in some time. But then I guess any drive that starts off with two leopard kills and a some lions on a kill won’t be too bad. My guests were checking out early, so we started drive a little after 6am and headed straight towards where Tshwukunyana male leopard had been found last night with an impala kill, but before we could get there, we bumped into a lovely herd of elephants making their way through a mopane woodland and they came and crossed the road right in front of us. We carried on towards the leopard and arrived to find him resting grumpily up a small marula tree snarling at the half dozen hyenas resting below him. After some time, the leopard began feeding and trying to move the carcass, almost dropping it at one point, before he decided to go rest again as the sun rose over the bush. He seemed quite settled, and we had enjoyed some good time with him, so I was getting ready to move on towards the lions, and had no sooner started heading off when we found a pack of wild dogs coming trotting towards the area, so we rushed back to the tree hoping for some action…we were not disappointed! What followed was several minutes of chaos as the wild dogs laid into the hyenas and, despite being smaller than the hyenas, managed to get the upper hand through their coordinated attacks on the hyenas. As vicious as the pictures may appear, the dogs were doing nothing more than sending a message and although a few superficial wounds were inflicted upon the hyenas’ butts, no serious injuries were incurred. Once the dogs had succeeded in letting the hyenas know who was boss, the wild dogs glanced at the leopard and then trotted off. Tshwukunyana just spent the whole time watching the chaos below without moving or snarling or anything. He just looked upset that his early morning nap had been disturbed! With calm returning, we moved off and headed down towards Lion Pan, passing the hippos at Mbali Dam. Arriving at Lion Pan we found one of the Sumatra male lions walking around trying to cover up the stomach content of their latest kill – the broken-legged buffalo cow that had been hanging around for the last couple of days. The bigger of the two males was resting some distance off, but when he was awoken by hyenas, he got up and moved to the pan where he had a drink before going to rest close to the kill and we left the scene. Heading through Java, we ticked off a load of giraffes along the riverbed, as well as a mother and young baby giraffe on the airstrip before making our way back to the lodge to drop our guest off as they had an early check out – what a great way to end off! When dropping them off, the monkeys started alarm calling at the lodge, so we checked the northern side of the camp to see if the leopard that was no doubt causing the consternation was around, but had no luck so we went to end off the morning with a bush breakfast, but not after enjoying a brief sighting of the smallest antelope in the area, the Sharpe’s Grysbok. Merchant male had been around this morning, but after finishing his kill, he moved off to the north and disappeared.
I got a new set of guests in the afternoon, and was hoping that we could repeat the successes that we had enjoyed the last few days. Some of the guests had enjoyed being on safari before, but for another couple, it was their first time, but there was a unanimous request for leopards, and knowing that Tshwukunyana was going to provide the leopard needed, I was planning on heading down towards him slowly, and was busy confirming this with the guides on the radio when Difference pointed and said something, followed by “it disappeared”. I wasnt quite sure what he meant, as I was looking at something that wasnt going anywhere; a dead impala lying on the waters edge of the riverbed. Then Difference looked around at the same time as I did and we saw the leopard that was responsible for the kill, and the whole scene suddenly made sense. Shongile female. Her cub. And a kill. Within the first five minutes of setting off on drive; clearly our luck was not running out just yet! We spent the next half hour watching as Shongile came down from the riverbank and decided to pull the fully grown male impala up the near-vertical steep bank on the side of the riverbed she had just come down from. I wasnt sure she would be able to do it, but leopards are not the most powerful of big cats (on a weight-for-weight ratio) for no reason, and she proceeded to demonstrate this strength for us as she scaled the bank with the carcass (that weighed more thunder own weight) before she began feeding. She left the carcass as the base of a leadwood tree, but we knew that it was unlikely that she would be able to get it up the tree before the hyenas found it, and as the daylight was already starting to fade, we made some space for the other guides and carried on towards the lions. We passed the impala, waterbuck, steenbuck, hippos and kudu before we arrived to find the male lions quite fat and sleepy near their kill – the one male was grooming before getting up and moving to the kill; only the nearby hyenas occasionally disturbing them. We saw something dash past near the riverbed and thought it might have been the wild dogs, but on investigating, found nothing. With the lions fast asleep again, we moved on and decided to check upon Tshwukunyana male leopard and his kill. He was sitting in the same marula tree, and looking even fatter this evening. One hyena came wandering, and moved on, then the leopard decided to climb down the tree, but his snarling into the darkness let us know that there was still another leopard in the shadows; he snarled again and then leaped off the tree and trotted away until he was sure that the hyena wasnt following him, and we watched as he slowed down to a stroll and disappeared into the darkness before we made our way back to the lodge after another cracking drive, and a rather wonderful day of sightings.