The Leopard hunts in the darkness! An awesome book by Wilbur Smith and a very exciting and provocative title, slightly fearsome to some I suppose, but of all the sights of the African bush none is more awe inspiring and sought after than that of a leopard. Inkwe/ Ngwe as it is called in most Bantu languages in the northern and eastern parts of South Africa is the call sign to which every guide hurries. All you have to say to a guest or guide in Kruger is “Ingwe static in so and so tree and on so and so road” and if it is at all possible they are thrilled, and will to go and see it.
I had an awesome experience with a particular female over a period of a year at another reserve where I was based and this is her story.
I came out of the tent next to the fence line one afternoon and got a funny feeling that someone something was watching me. I turned right towards the fence hardly 4 meters away and there she stepped out of the bush and came straight up to the fence. A 2 meter high fence does not keep leopards out if they really want to get in and the gates were open any way but to be face to face with this most elusive creature in the Big 5 left a deep imprint on my soul. She turned away and silently went down the embankment to the river and I ran in for the camera.
Across the stream are two large Camel thorn trees and she loves the one on the right because it gives her a clear view of the open area just beyond and she make calculations as to what or rather who will be on the menu that evening. She was pregnant at the time I saw her though nobody knew then. We figured that out since she totally disappeared from view for a month or so, and then her tracks were found with little ones next to them.
She hunted in the same territory as before and was busy raising her cubs. We found them from time to time in trees or by the river where she was leaving them when they were old enough so she could go hunt for them.
Time went on and then I saw them at 9 months old, large and confident walking thru the bush with mommy. Little cubs fall prey to hyenas and lions often and I was so happy that all 3 made it thru that first gauntlet of 6 months when they are too young to defend themselves or flee.
I saw two of them the other day bushwalking and since carrying the rifle does not allow me to carry a camera as well I got no shots, but the sight of the two siblings walking and stalking is again deeply imprinted. I walked past the drag marks minutes old with fresh blood leading into the reeds on the river’s edge and thot to myself, this leopard hunts in daylight too. How cool is that!
Come to Africa, it touches you in so many ways!