I had guests for 3 nights at Buffalo Camp. We managed to see everything except the elusive Leopard, the most difficult one to find out of the Big Five. On their last morning, we decided to leave earlier than normal for our game drive. It was still dark when we left, not to mention very gloomy and overcast. We were determined to let nothing stop us from our mission of finding our Leopard, as they are one of the most difficult animals to trace and locate in the wild and the most elusive and secretive of the large felids.
Not really sure where to begin our search, I remembered that another ranger and colleague caught a very quick glimpse of a Leopard the previous night. With nothing much else to work with, I figured it was at least a start. We headed off to the area where the Leopard had briefly been spotted, looking for tracks or any other sign to give us an indication of the direction to pursue the Leopard. After scanning the terrain for a short while, we came to a particular section on the reserve. Sonnyboy, my tracker and I looked at each other and nodded in unison. It seems we both had a gut feeling to drive down this one small road. Not too long after venturing down the road, Sonnyboy put his hand up, motioning for me to stop. He thought he caught a glimpse of something in a tree not too far off the road. Not completely sure what he had spotted, I have a quick look with the binoculars, just to make sure. I smiled broadly hoping I did not give anything away. I casually turned to my guests and told them we had a surprise for them.
I slowly made our way towards the tree. As we approached, my guest suddenly realised what we had spotted in the distance earlier. Finally, the moment we had hoped for materialised. There up in a tree was a beautiful leopard. But not just a Leopard, it had a kill up in the tree with it. It appeared to be a small Impala that had served as the Leopard’s meal on this particular day.
Leopards are astoundingly strong. They are kg for kg the strongest of the big cats. They are able to climb trees, even when carrying heavy prey. The reason why they carry their prey up in trees is so that other predators, like Lions and Hyena, can’t steal it from them. That is probably the best way to spend time with a Leopard. Up in a tree when it has a kill. Lucky for us, he was very relaxed and allowed us to watch him for a while. As we were watching the Leopard enjoying his meal, the sun started to rise and the clouds began to clear up. Nothing could be better than watching a beautiful sunrise, together with a Leopard, feasting on its kill in the middle of the South African bushveld. We probably watched the Leopard for a good half an hour.
What an amazing morning and such a great way to start off the last day of my guest’s South African safari. They were extremely happy they finally saw the leopard and were able to tick off the last of the big 5 off their bucket list. Seeing our guests so happy and enjoying these wonderful moments motivates me to do what I do best and standing up before sunrise well worth it.
Story and photographs by – Ben Scheepers Buffalo camp
Besides the Lion, the Leopard is the next biggest African cat, with an average mass of 60 to 70kg. The Leopard’s hunting technique is to either ambush or stalk its prey, in either instance it tries to get as close as possible to its target. It then makes a brief and explosive charge up to 60km/h, pouncing on the prey with a bite to the neck.read more