Leopard Tracking

It was still dark out. I waited for my guests to join me for our first early morning cup of steaming coffee. Buffalo camp is so quiet this early in the morning, you can hear a pin drop. We were eager to begin the day with our first game drive. After delicious treats and snacks and the second cup of freshly brewed coffee for me, we were ready to set off at 6 am. As we boarded the vehicle the sun started to show the first signs of its golden rays, for a new day in the bush to begin. Exited guest with big expectations for the day, snuggled up on the back of the vehicle trying to escape the early morning chill with blankets and hot water bottles.

We set off looking for anything that nature would provide. That is what I love about game drives. You never know what you will find when out and about on the Kapama Reserve. With the crisp air and rising sun my tracker (Safary) yes his name is actually Safary, picked up on some fresh Leopard tracks. I gazed alongside the vehicle and make a quick judgment call.  I decide they are fresh enough to follow.  To make the drive a bit more interactive, at one point I stopped the vehicle, got out and took a couple of seconds to point out to my guests what we were looking at and what the fresh tracks looked like.  I explained to them how to identify the difference between Leopard and Lion track as well as the difference between cat and dog tracks as they can look pretty similar. Leopard tracks are similar to those of a Lion, however, they are smaller. The stride distance is about 1 m. As Leopards are solitary animals, usually there is only one set of tracks, unless a cub is with a mom, whereas with Lions, as they are very social cats, normally there is more than one set of tracks that can be found together.

With me back on the vehicle, fresh tracks at our disposal we started to pursue this amazing creature. The tracks headed straight down the road. Animals often traverse on the roads as it is easier and quicker to get from point A to B. We noticed that the general direction of the tracks was taking us straight to a watering hole. We approached the watering hole with anticipation, looking left and right eager for what we might find.  To our utter disappointment, we found nothing. I could hear a deep sigh from the back of the vehicle, clearly, my guests were disappointed.

I surveyed the land for a moment to rethink our plan and figure out where to go next. Suddenly something caught my eye in the distance. At first glance, I thought it was an impala. I was in no rush to approach it as they are plentiful especially this time of the year but as I was not 100% sure I decided to slowly move in that direction.

As I approached the area, something did not seem right. If it was an impala there would have been more in the vicinity. I once again stopped the vehicle to confirm what had in fact crossed the road. To my amazement as we stopped my eye caught the prize. In the top of a beautiful Marula tree there lay a beautiful leopard, just relaxing in the tree.

We sat and watched the leopard for a while, giving my guests the opportunity to take some beautiful photos. Not long after that the Leopard jumped down and made its way across the grass and disappeared

What a wonderful morning. From Safary picking up that first fresh tracks, to following it all the way to the watering hole. At first being highly disappointed, only to finish off with a magnificent sighting of this beautiful lying leopard.

Story and Photos by: Ranger Chris Reiners Buffalo Camp

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