The day started with the usual morning coffee and meeting my guests before our safari game drive at Southern Camp. I set out on drive hoping to see maybe some Lions or even the gentle giants of the bush veld.
Not even 5 minutes from Kapama Southern Camp, we encounter one of my favorite animals, a Pangolin!
These little nocturnal anteaters are super cute but are also highly endangered. They are covered in keratinous scales which help protect them from predators as they curl up into a ball, similar to an armadillo (but not related in any way). They are currently the most trafficked mammal in the World… So immediately I start cheering, having a mini attack of excitement, as these animals are very rare to see.
There was also a lot of joy in having found this one myself and with it being so early in the morning. It was probably finishing its nightly activities and getting ready to find a safe burrow and rest for the day before going out again that night… So I grabbed my camera and I started explaining to my guests about this awesome find, they were a bit tentative at first but we disembarked the vehicle, giving our little friend enough space of course.
She was initially curled up, I think the noise of the vehicle spooked her slightly, but she peeked her face out from her body, sniffed around and then started wandering off into the thickets. Luckily, we got to see her and take nice photos of her uncurling and walking away. It was truly a breath-taking experience seeing one again but also just watching her being in her natural habitat and going about her business as usual.
So we left her to her own devices and set off again to see what else we could find.
After a couple of minutes of driving, we saw a blur of something running off the side of the road not far in front of us. It was a Leopard! She was hunched down and looking very uncomfortable. I looked past her and we saw that Nyala were staring right at her and also barking their alarm calls. These barks are quite loud and almost explosive sounding, so no wonder the Leopard looked weary as she was probably feeling very exposed. As we watched her run across the road and disappear in the thick bush we were still being bombarded with barks from the Nyalas. The Leopard sighting was so quick none of us could even think of taking any photos so I tried following up on where she had disappeared hoping for another look. We had one fleeting glimpse of her heading straight into a large drainage line. As we moved past we discovered an Impala kill stashed in a tree not far from where we had the last sighting of the Leopard. Putting 2 and 2 together we assumed it might be this Leopard’s kill. I didn’t want to disturb her too much so we waited for a couple of minutes to see if she would return but she was still a bit too shy to show herself and we left her in peace somewhere probably watching us.
We continued with our drive. As we made our way closer to a large open area, there was suddenly a low roar in the distance… We stopped to listen and sure enough, it came again. It was a male Lion calling not too far off. Then…silence. No other calls after that and soon I was doubting whether he was even one of ours at all. We were close to the river, which forms part of our boundary with one of the neighbouring reserves. As we did not hear the roar again, we decided to enjoy the beautiful morning with a signature Southern Camp coffee stop, taking in the wide-open view that this area has to offer while Giraffe and Zebra walking in the distance kept us entertained. Once we had warmed ourselves with refreshments, we continued our morning safari!
I made my way north along the river to see if maybe we could spot a crocodile or even some Hippos, when we had the best possible surprise and sighting of the morning! We came across our one-eyed male Lion King of Kapama!
Watching him is always a pleasure as he is just such a handsome, awe-inspiring Lion. What a magnificent sight! We sat in silence and watched him as he made his way past us, stopping to look around every so often. It was with amusement that we saw him try and chase a big male Giraffe. But there wasn’t much heart in the chase and he immediately gave up and lay down in some thick bush after the seemingly unsuccessful yet exhausting attempt. We left him alone to take a snooze in the morning sun.
Wanting to make my way to that Leopards kill, from earlier, I started heading back that side, and just as we left the river, there was another Leopard! What are the chances? This female was much more relaxed and was strolling from a termite mound back into the bush. She even looked back at us as she nonchalantly walked off… We determined that there were a lot of Impalas in the bush not far from her and so we were willing to wait and hear or see what happens. I made my way to the other side of the block that she was walking through and waited in a spot where I thought she might pop out. Not long after that, you could hear the impala’s alarm calls startup. If nothing else the impalas were giving us a good indication of the direction that this leopard was heading.
After about 10 minutes of patiently waiting we saw the female leopard’s head pop up on top of a large termite mound in front of us.
Slowly approaching as not to scare her off, we made our way closer to see her better. She watched us from a distance then made her way past us, in a very stealth manner and was gone in a drainage line that runs to the river.
I always say to my guests it is all about Luck and Timing… and in this case, our morning drive was about BOTH. What a day!
Story and photos by Southern Camp Ranger Rayna Schultz