With four of Africa’s Big Five already ticked off, I set off from South Africa’s Buffalo Camp with guests for our afternoon game drive. We only had one very important, intriguing and regal creature left to complete the list. As we set off on our adventure, one of my guests asked if Ishmael, my tracker, and I could show off our tracking skills and find them the elusive Leopard as that was actually highest on their bucket list.
Not long into the drive, Ishmael raised his hand for me to stop. He pointed out some tracks on the road. Not just any tracks, it was very fresh Leopard tracks. Could we be so lucky? Only time would tell!
That morning and during the day we had strong gusts of wind blowing. All tracks would have been blown away or damage, so spotting something at this late stage in the afternoon was a wonderful and positive sign that it could be something worth following. Yet, I still held my breath as nature plays according to her own set of rules.
We tracked the Leopard footprints all the way along the road! Sadly the tracks disappear into the bushes and my heart sank. We went around to the next road hoping that we could pick the tracks up again. Ishmael’s skills were certainly being put to the test. Our guests were eagerly watching each hand and body motion coming from the seat up at the front of the vehicle to see if Ishmael would give away any hints or excitement of something spotted. Eventually, we found more tracks again on the road that followed once again back into bushes, so not all that much to work with. I continued along the road, trying to figure out where this Leopard would have ended up.
At one point in the road, we saw some scuff marks in the sand as if some kind of fight had taken place. Ishmael surveyed the terrain with his keen hawk eyes, and once he ensured it was safe, he jumped off his tracker seat in the front and walked up to the display of commotion on the ground to decipher its cryptic message. On further investigation, we discovered a few drag marks. Was it a predator’s kill? Something had certainly been dragged across the road he was staring at, so we continued with our pursuit.
Not far off we picked up on Leopard tracks once more. Ishmael and I were convinced it was our earlier Leopard we started tracking and it seemed as though the Leopard had made a kill. It was certainly worth investigating, so we followed the drag marks as far as we could. Just then, we came across the Leopard’s kill, a male impala, but no Leopard in sight. I moved the game vehicle just a little bit deeper into the shrubbery and there she was, lying down not too far from her kill.
My guests silently erupted with excitement, not quite believing we we were able to track that Leopard for them. Nor did they realise that this little Leopard adventure had taken us about 2 hours to track her down. I explained to my guests that she would rest a bit before continuing to eat. While we watched her she stood up and walked away deeper into the bushes.
Knowing that there was a small water hole just around the corner, I was sure she was making her way there. I moved the game vehicle around to the other side hoping we would find her. As we rounded the corner she was laying on the wall of the water hole giving us the best possible photo opportunity.
Seeing her was just amazing but what made it so rewarding, was the opportunity to show my guests in an exciting, yet informative way, how incredible the signs of nature can be!
Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger – Ben Scheepers