King of the shadows
Many game rangers will say that a game drive can be very unpredictable and you can’t always predetermine what you might see. This, I believe wholeheartedly, especially after our last experience.
We started our first game drive with our terrific new guests with almost no expectations what so ever. However, nature had a plan of its own for us that day as one surprise led to other.
We had settled into the drive nicely, giving our guests an opportunity to soak up the crisp, fresh bush air, when my tracker and faithful friend, Michael, picked up on fresh tracks. All he said was “It’s one of the Big 5“ trying to keep everyone in suspense. He became very restless yet excited, like a kid on Christmas morning. I could feel this contagious reaction shift to the guests behind me.
We decided to follow the tracks to see if anything would materialize. We came around the corner on our way to one of the dams in the north-east just to see if the tracks would reveal who they belonged to.
As we took the corner, we found two big elephant bulls shoving and pushing each other around on the dam wall. What an amazing sight! Nature had decided to reveal her first surprise for us that late afternoon. Keeping a safe distance from them, we watched in wonderment as these two gentle giants of Kapama tried to show each other who’s boss. After a few moments of witnessing these incredible elephants in their natural habitat, we left them as the sun started to set, feeling quite thrilled that we had such a terrific sighting on our first drive.
With the excitement still with the guests, I made our way to a different dam, as I wanted to stop for sundowners in order for our guests to experience a beautiful South African sunset. On arrival, I got an awkward gut feeling. You know the kind that could sometimes be good or sometimes be bad? I was a little unsure which one though! As Michael was about to get off the vehicle, I motioned for him to stop as something caught my eye.
I could not believe it!. A leopard lying on the opposite side of the water!
At that moment a lot of mixed emotions started flowing over me but I kept my cool and drove a little closer to view him. As a true prince of darkness, king of the shadows, he kept lying there, posing for what felt like a million pictures. He got up slowly, stretched and started walking on to the dam wall. He walked to a bush in front of the vehicle and sprayed urine on the bush.
Now for those who have never smelt leopard urine before, it smells a lot like fresh popcorn. From there he continued walking towards the vehicle and moved next to us. He passed by slowly without a care in the world and no aggression towards us at all. He marked a couple more bushes and slowly disappeared into the night without a sound. Nature had unexpectedly revealed her second surprise in one afternoon.
As I turned around to look at the guests, their facial expressions said it all. They could not believe what had just happened and neither could I. In over 14 years combined experience between myself and Michael, neither of us had witnessed such a unique sighting. That day will stay with us for a very long time.
Written by: Ranger Corne