May 27, 2014

Sundowner Surprise at Karongwe

We were nearing the end of the Level 1 55 day course at Karongwe Camp and
as is usually the case at this time in the course the students, who were now
preparing for their practical assessments, were now starting to explore the
area for a suitable route for each of their assessments whilst brushing up
on a few of their guiding skills. We left camp in the late afternoon and
wound our way through the woodland north of Camp towards an area known as
Beacon Rock. On the way, our "guide for the day", Katarina, stopped to point
out many interesting birds, flowers, trees and animal tracks from the game
drive vehicle.
Katarina had asked each of her guests, before leaving camp, what animal or
interest they had, and for one of the few times during the course, nobody
said "Leopard"!
One of the vehicles driving from a commercial camp in the reserve had found
a 3 Cheetahs in the direction we were headed, but Katarina and the group
decided to avoid the sighting and stick to the original plan of reaching
Beacon Rock for sundowners!!
Whilst winding our way down a road, having a small competition of "who can
identify that tree" as one tends to do from time to time on these courses,
thankfully our guide had her eyes on the road and when the vehicle came to
an abrupt stop, we all looked to the road to see what had caused the sudden
halt!
There in the road no more than 50 meters from the vehicle was a magnificent
female Leopard. She stopped for a few seconds to look at us, and then to
everyone's amazement, she just continued walking straight towards the
vehicle.
Straight away, we noticed that one of her eyes was darker in colour and in
fact was all "cloudy" in appearance. I have seen this a few times over the
years in big cats and in nearly all the cases I have witnessed, it was from
a bad injury to the eye that could have been caused by a claw of another
Leopard whilst fighting, an antelope's hoof to the eye or another such
injury. The amazing thing is that it doesn’t seem to impede the cat's in any
serious way from carrying out their day to day functions. One Leopard I
followed lived over 10 years after sustaining such an injury and
successfully raised a few litters of cubs in the process!
Anyway, back to the leopard in the road!! Just a few meters short of the
vehicle she moved into the bush to allow herself some breathing space before
returning to the road and resuming her march, stopping once in a while to
elegantly scent mark her territory with urine.
We followed at a distance that she was comfortable with for about 600meters,
before she decided to head off the road and into the open woodland. This
was a perfect opportunity for our guide to get some off road driving practice
in!!
We followed her watching her movements to predict the best route for the
Land Rover to take, avoiding all trees, such as Sickle Bush whose large hard
spines will deflate a tyre as quick as a six inch nail!! After about 100
meters into the bush, the Leopard stopped and put her nose into the air and
sniffed once. She then let out a vocalization that safari guides live for. A
short grunt followed by a few loud sniff like noises, then repeated them. I
quickly explained to the group, that what she had done, was to try contact
another Leopard at close quarters, possibly and hopefully young.
She called a once more and moved slightly deeper into the bush, where we
lost sight of her for a second. The anticipation and excitement on the
vehicle was electric, and we after repositioning the vehicle we saw what we
were hoping for. A Leopard cub bounded out of the grass to greet its mother,
and we watched as the two played and groomed.
After having enjoyed the Leopards for nearly an hour, we left them moving
into thick bush too thick for a Land Rover to follow, but we had all had a
fantastic time watching and learning about Leopards.
So next time your Safari Guide asks you your interest before a drive,
perhaps, Trees or Birds should be your response!?


Photos supplied by Joep




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