We had spent a night at Djuma Private Game Reserve in the northern Sabi Sand and woke up early for our first morning game drive. During the short walk to the main lodge to have our morning coffee before the drive, the peaceful autumn morning was shattered by an explosion of vervet monkey alarm calls.
They are great indicators of the presence of predators such as leopards, snakes and birds of prey, the alarm call made for each different predator being specific. Our guides were convinced a leopard must be in front of the lodge in the drainage line.
The need for caffeine having abated at the adrenaline now coursing through our veins, we quickly hopped on the vehicle to investigate. Minutes later, as we reached a T-junction in the road ahead, there he was, heading up the left – a male leopard. Flanked by tall grass on each side of the road, he made for an eerie scene in the early morning light. We were told he was one of two brothers who had recently left the care of their mother to fend for themselves.
Before the effects of the adrenaline could dissipate from our bodies, we were off to another sighting that was called in on a neighbouring property. We took a gamble and headed off in the direction of the sighting, not knowing what had been spotted or if we could get there in time. We made it!
A gorgeous female leopard greeted us as she investigated the surrounding bush, playfully climbing trees and scent marking her territory as she went. We managed to take some incredible photographs of her before moving on.
Happy with the morning’s events thus far, we stopped for coffee in the bush before heading back for brunch. As we made our way up the final cutline close to Gowrie Dam in front of the main lodge at Djuma, as if appearing from nothing, a huge male leopard walked into the cutline in front of our vehicle. He crossed the road just meters from our vehicle and, to our absolute surprise, a female leopard popped out just behind him.
We were told the two must be in a mating cycle. The guide and tracker predicted that they were heading to Gowrie Dam for a drink and we headed there to meet them.
There we found the female as she settled at the water’s edge for a drink. She was in the same position for over five minutes and allowed us plenty of time to manoeuvre the vehicle and capture some incredible photographs. Unfortunately, the male never joined her and we then made the short drive back to the lodge to enjoy a hearty brunch and discuss the morning’s experience.
Our afternoon drive had hardly started, when a call came on the radio of a leopard sighting. Apparently the leopard was on the access road to the lodge. We drove a mere two minutes before we saw him, another young male leopard, posing on a termite mound.
He was the brother of the one we had seen first in the morning. We spent an hour with him. Unbelievable, our fifth leopard for the day and another one less than 500 meters from the lodge.
It was in that moment that we decided to host the At Close Quarters Big Cat Photo Safari at Djuma, a magical place meaning ‘roar of the lion’, and a true mecca of the big cats.