The Kruger National Park, South Africa, is the size of Switzerland. The majority of roads are tarred and any member of the public can drive around looking for animals. The big five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo) are on everyone’s checklist.
It was early morning in December and we were on the look out for a leopard. December is a special time of the year in the African bush. Many animals give birth at this time of year as the rains bring lush grass to eat. This baby boom is also a survival technique for many of the herbivores. On average about 50% of those born will fall prey to the likes of lions, leopards and hyenas. As you can imagine, if all of the herbivores gave birth throughout the year these predators would simply pick them off one at a time. It’s the safety in numbers game. Although December is a great time of year for viewing cute baby animals and birds, it can be difficult to find some animals. The bush is thick and difficult to see through and the abundance of water means that animals are not drawn to the rivers and watering holes.
Nonetheless, we were out and we were hopeful. We drove nice and slowly, three field guides in one car searching through every gap in the vegetation. Around the corner a car was stopped in the road. They had obviously spotted something of interest. We pulled up alongside the other car and the couple inside were beaming.
“You missed it! There was a leopard just sitting in the road! She was completely relaxed.”
They then proceeded to show us photographic evidence (this just added to my annoyance).
“You can still just see her though”
They pointed into the long grass. With a pair of binoculars, and by tilting your head to one side whilst squinting through your left eye, you could just about make out the beautiful creature. Now I was happy! To see any leopard, albeit nearly invisible, is special. Within a few minutes she got up and disappeared in the long grass walking parallel with the road. I started the car with the intention of moving forwards to see if we could find a gap in the vegetation to catch another glimpse of her.
The moment I started the car an impala lamb sprinted out in front of us! Hot on it’s heels was the leopardess. With one quick paw swipe the tiny antelope went skidding across the road. Before it had time to get up the leopard had it in her deadly jaws. I was dumbstruck. This all happened within 5 meters of my car and now she was so close to the passenger door the only way I could take a photograph of her was to gingerly poke my head around the windscreen. Whilst she killed the lamb she stared at us. Other impalas alarm called loudly; warning all other animals of the recent events. I was thankful for the stabilizer on my lens as I was shaking with an adrenaline overload.
Putting an end to the impala’s life did not take long. When it no longer twitched the leopardess carried her meal back into the long grass and out of our view.