Some cats just don’t like to share
In Kapama, we’re lucky to have a couple of relaxed resident leopards that carry on about their business as if we’re not there. One such leopard, a female, was recently spotted enjoying a hard-earned impala kill with her two cubs, high up in a tree and out of reach from the hyenas lurking below. Leopards with kills often stick around for a few days, so the morning after this incredible sighting we decided to head off early with the hope of spending more time with them.
Bleary-eyed, wrapped up in all manner of jackets, blankets, scarves, and gloves, and clutching hot water bottles to fend off the crisp winter chill, we set off into the pre-dawn darkness. As we approached the huge jackal-berry tree where the previous night’s show had taken place, we scanned, but didn’t immediately spot her. If it weren’t for Freeman, my tracker, and his well-honed leopard spotting skills, we might have missed her.
“Over there.” He pointed, casually. We turned as she melted into view against a backdrop of exposed granite rock. We approached slowly, trying to get the morning sun behind us to maximize the golden light that makes wildlife photography so rewarding at this time of the year.
But something was clearly not right. She was moving away from the jackal-berry tree, but kept glancing back, and as she got closer we noticed that she was injured. The small laceration on her stomach area didn’t seem to slow her down, but she wasn’t as fit and healthy when we had left her the previous night. Why was she injured? Where were the cubs? And why did she keep looking behind her?
All three questions were answered with the sudden appearance of a very large male leopard with bloodstained jaws. He had obviously stolen her kill and she was injured in her attempt to protect her cubs.
As the leopardess moved away, calling softly for her unseen cubs, he stalked out from behind the jackal-berry tree, scuffing the ground with his hind legs and spraying to mark his territory. As if she’d had enough of him, she bolted past the vehicle and disappeared down into a dry riverbed. Not 15 meters away from our vehicle, the large male growled angrily as he watched her leave.
Over a warming coffee stop in a patch of sunlight, we mulled over what we had just seen and tried not to worry about the missing cubs. Sometimes, the most incredible and memorable sightings are those tinged with sadness, but we all agreed that it’s generally best to trust nature’s way and to be thankful for the opportunity to witness it.
Written by: Garry Bruce
Kapama Southern Camp
Note: The cubs are still alive and well and are well on their way to being as relaxed as their mother.
An unexpected kill
The African bushveld isn’t always like you see it on television. Lion prides don’t always have a big male accompanying them, leopards aren’t always in trees, and cheetahs don’t always outrun their prey across vast, open plains.
Open grasslands are ideal hunting grounds for cheetahs, so we were happy but not surprised to find a solitary female on a particularly open section of the reserve on our morning drive. We followed her as she walked along the thickets that bordered the open area, and when she paused for a few seconds as if she’d heard something we prepared ourselves for a possible chase.
But she surprised us by moving into the thickets.
We thought we’d lost her, that she was moving into deep shade to sleep, but we quickly discovered that she had other plans. Soon after she disappeared, a female waterbuck bolted out of the thickets, voicing her alarm with a series of unhappy snorts, and from the dense undergrowth came a quick and unexpected ‘mehh’ sound.
It was then that I suspected a cheetah kill, because the sheep-like sound is a typical distress call made by prey animals after having been captured. I maneuvered around the thickets on the off chance that the cheetah had come out on the other side, then sat and waited for barely five minutes before she reappeared, dragging the carcass of a young waterbuck calf past my vehicle and into the open, under a tree, where she could feed comfortably while keeping an eye out for danger. She fed quickly and warily – cheetahs, being smaller, weaker and unable to hoist their prey into trees, are especially vulnerable to other large predators – and the hopeless waterbuck mother wandered away to rejoin her herd.
The best sightings are often tinged with sadness, but this unexpected cheetah kill was a great way to end our morning safari.
Written by: Riaan Botha
Kapama River Lodge
Not just a cackling scavenger…
Though many think of them only as pilfering scavengers that feed off the efforts of other predators’ hard work, spotted hyenas are so much more interesting. They’re hunters as well as scavengers, and like most animals they’re fiercely protective of their young.
Guests are usually quite happy to see them, even if not so happy to smell them, but it’s unusual for them to ask to see hyenas specifically. So when guests, Mary and Mark Degut, climbed on my vehicle for their evening drive and told me to find them some hyenas, I took them straight to an active den.
We arrived in time to see a couple of pups out and about, but it was the three adults running around the den in their loping manner that immediately caught our attention. They were agitated, clearly uphappy as they loped back and forth marking their territory, so I kept my eyes open for other predators.
Before I could even say the word ‘leopard’, let alone take a picture, the culprit had zipped across the road and bolted into dense bush with three adult hyenas hot on her heels. We watched until they were out of sight and listened for sounds of a fight that never came.
Leopards, like hyenas, are well-known opportunists. Had those pups been playing alone and unprotected outside their den, that leopardess wouldn’t have hesitated before snatching one up for dinner. To be fair, if those hyenas had come across a leopard cub, they’d have done the same. This time, however, everyone made it out alive, and we breathed a sigh of relief. Naturally, it took a few moments before what we’d just seen sunk in, and another few before any of us could complete a full sentence!
It was one of those quick, unexpected sightings that only last for a second or two, but stay with you for a long time. And it was a firm reminder that for predators, including the ungainly hyena, survival is hardly a picnic.
Written by: Francois van Rhyn
Kapama Southern Camp
A giraffe affair
We often spend our guests’ final drives checking off any animals on their lists we haven’t yet found. One of my favourite animals to watch and photograph is giraffe, and recently we’ve come across a few male giraffes in the behavioural act of ‘necking’, a kind of dance between two giraffes flinging their necks at one another. Sometimes it’s between two young giraffes play-fighting like brothers, but sometimes it’s the real thing.
Male giraffes use their necks and heads as weapons to establish dominance, and males that win necking bouts impress more lady-giraffes and have greater reproductive success. There are two types of necking: low intensity necking, where combatants rub and lean against each other and the male that can hold itself more erect wins the bout, and high intensity necking, where combatants spread their front legs and swing their necks at each other, attempting to land painful blows with their short, stubby horns or ‘ossicones’. The power of a blow depends on the weight of the skull and the arc of the swing, so contestants need to dodge blows and counter with well-aimed swings of their own.
A necking duel can last more than half an hour, depending on how well matched the combatants are, and although most fights don’t lead to serious injury, there have been records of broken jaws, broken necks, and even deaths. After a duel, it is common for two male giraffes to caress and court each other, with the victor even mounting the loser in a show of dominance, proving he is the more ‘manly’ of the two.
It’s easy to sit and watch them for long periods, forgetting the time and violence of their unique dance. Their necks swinging and their long legs moving through the dust to a rhythm only they can hear is absolutely mesmerizing, and when their song is finished, they move off as if they hardly noticed us or the flashing of our cameras.
Giraffes are very iconic animals in Africa; extraordinary creatures that really make guests feel part of our true African wilderness. When you visit us the next time, be sure to ask your ranger to stop and appreciate them for the incredible animals that they are, and if you’re lucky enough to see them “necking”, watch them dance!
Written by: Angie Seeber
Kapama River Lodge