By Kavi Naidoo
It is always special guiding in the Greater Kruger Area. With minimal commercial activity and and an unpredictable ecosystem their is suspense during every Safari activity.
Finding the Preditors
Having had some really up and close Elephant sightings and a Rhino cow and Calf on the evening Safari and pretty much most of the other larger mammal species in the area. My focus on this early morning Safari was predators! There was something to follow up on as one of the other rangers found an Impala carcass on a Marula tree that evening. There was a vehicle that passed by the carcass earlier on but there was no sign of any Leopard but only a few Tawny eagles and one Hyena hanging around. This seemed to have been an abandoned kill but I still had my hopes high knowing that this Leopard could have been quite shy and was wanting to start feeding only when it was comfortable.
So I made it a note not to pass by the area until much later in the morning as it was an overcast day as well. After our sunrise refreshments at Renoster Dam I slowly made my way toward the area where the carcass was and made a very slow and vigilant approach. From about 100m away I could see movement in the tree and with my binoculars could effectively identify a female leopard in the carcass. I explained to the very excited guests at this point that we will try and get closer depending on how relaxed the Leopard is and asked of them to be very silent. All worked well and we managed to get close enough to hear the bones cracking as she munched into the skull and facial bones purposely discarding the jaw bones much to the delight of the hyena waiting for scraps at the bottom! We enjoyed this sighting undisturbed until all were satisfied and knew that there was a good chance of this Leopard being around in the afternoon as there was still lots of meat left on the carcass.
We returned back to the Lodge with hungry but very excited guests on board!
Returning in the afternoon
After a relaxing afternoon we headed out on our late afternoon game drive. My plan was to only make our way to the Leopard and kill as it gets dark. This would increase our chances of seeing her again and also viewing her being more active.
As we made our approach to the area after a beautifully set up sundowner break in the riverbed. We came across another Impala kill, only about 1,2km from the female Leopard. This kill layed wedged in a knob thorn tree and as we looked carefully we noticed a 2nd Impala in the tree. That’s right! Two dead impalas in the same knob thorn tree! From the sizes of these carcasses and seeing that it was 2, I was convinced that these kills were made by a very skilled and experienced male Leopard. He was nowhere to be seen at this time so we made our way to the Female leopard sighting and enjoyed that for a while before continuing our drive, not far from that point we came across the now 22 strong pack of African Wild Dogs which is Africa’s most endangered but also most successful predators.
African Wild dog chase
They were clearly on the hunt and tough to keep up with but from experience I knew there was action around the corner should I be able to keep up with them. This now turned out to be a high speed chase with 3 point turns, tears rolling down our eyes from the wind in our faces and guests holding on to their hats. Then all of a sudden we heard an alarm call ahead of us and noticed the 8 wild dog pups devouring a steenbok kill that had just been made! The smell given off by this animal was overwhelming and these pups tearing into the flesh and skin made for a very powerful and just plain down raw predator encounter!
The King of the Jungle
As we pulled out of this sighting there was a call in on the radio of a brief glimpse of some lions not far off. I thought we’d give it a shot to try and relocate and the timing was perfect as we came into that area as this beautiful male lion had just been approached and greeted by 3 females right in front of us. Lots of vocalizing and affectionate displays between them followed and indicated that they were mating. Wow! What a drive this was turning out to be. We all were pumped and the thrill of the chase of the wild dogs still fresh in our blood.
And back to the leopard
Now completely dark, we began making our way back to camp. I planned to pass by the tree which had 2 impala carcasses in it hoping that this male leopard would have started feeding. And with the sound of thrilled guests chatting behind me about all that was witnessed, the script could have not been written any better as my spot light illuminated the rich pattern of this massive Male leopard in the tree feeding!
It was an unbelievable game drive and one i will not forget. Each sighting was experienced with all senses up and close!
Predators thrive during droughts and dry seasons. With herbivores struggling to sustain their daily energy requirements and not being in their best conditions allows for a higher success rate during hunts. In the KNP, during the early 90’s the lion population has had a huge increase. Lets hope that the same pattern follows during this drought as Lion numbers have decreased drastically over the last 5years.