Text: Ranger Liam Henderson
With the Manyeleti River flowing again for the first time in two years, a pool of water had accumulated around a large set of granite rocks. At that point, the southern bank of the river is adorned with large trees within lush thickets while the northern bank is a steep and rocky cliff face on top of which grows a stand of euphorbias. It’s the type of setting fit for Africa’s most beautiful cat and it was the scene of an incredible sighting on Friday.
Driving down the riverbed with the sun setting behind us we were far from expecting to witness the events that were to unfold in front of our very eyes. A trail of tracks caught our eye in the wet sand of the riverbed. A trail of tracks caught our eye in the wet sand of the riverbed. Closer inspection revealed spoor of a female leopard, dappled with a smaller paw prints, those of a cub. They were heading down stream and we followed with heightened senses. A little spark of excitement grew inside of me as I saw these tracks. One can never become too excited as leopard tracks can easily disappear into the bush during the summer with the long grass but my hopes were high. As we followed the tracks down river, through its twists and turns, I knew we were running against the clock. This cub is still too young to be viewed after dark with a spotlight. I needed to find and I needed to do it now.
The thought had barely passed through my mind when we rounded the next bend and were greeted with the sight of a female leopard sitting on a granite rock beyond a small pool of water. It was the Piccadilly female and she was staring back at her 4-month old cub that had not yet gathered the courage to cross the body of water that separated them. The faint call of the female leopard could be heard just over our collective whispered excitement.
But before we could gather ourselves, pandemonium broke loose. A herd of very skittish impala ewes came cascading down the bank. The mother abruptly lost interest in her adolescent cubs fears of water and quickly crouched into pouncing position. In a flurry of snorts and splashes the herd ran through the pool of water right next to where the leopard was crouching. As swiftly as ever she bounded over the rocks to cut the impala off on the opposing bank and as the first ewe cleared the water, the leopardess was there to greet it. The Piccadilly female stopped the antelope in its tracks, administered the finishing touch and then dragged her bounty to the water’s edge.
The cub, with newly found motivation to conquer the fear of a small pool, had crossed the water and watched the spectacle from where her mother was previously perched. The cub learned a valuable lesson that day… it will have to master its reflexes. Life as a leopard means that you have to pounce on opportunities when they present themselves. Expect the unexpected.