In the vast savannah of the Serengeti National Park there was an eclectic buzz about the land, almost as if the inhabitants were beckoning me to come and pay them a visit. Not long after entering the park, I spotted a leopard sleeping high up in a tree, nestled comfortably on one of the many large branches, shielded from the sun by its umbrella-like canopy.
Down below, my Jeep was part of a large group of cars, all waiting for this magnificent creature to wake up. Wake she did not, and as the minutes went by, one by one the other vehicles pulled away, going off into the wilderness to pursue other game. However, I remained there, for close to four hours, waiting for her to wake up from her afternoon siesta. After making me wait for what seemed like eternity, the sleepy leopard finally woke up! She looked beautiful, and as I sat there, happily taking pictures of her, she surveyed the savannah. I noticed her staring at something in the distance; a Thompson’s gazelle. She kept staring at the ungulate, watching its movements, and then she got up and it was evident that she was now really interested in this gazelle! With the graceful movements that only her kind possess, she started making her way down the tree.
The gazelle was completely unaware that it was being stalked by a predator just a couple of hundred yards away from it. The leopardess settled herself into the grass and began its assault. But alas, it wasn’t to be. Just as the leopardess was about to start her run at the gazelle, a couple of vehicles arrived, and in the commotion, the poor leopard lost her chance at grabbing a meal, for the vehicles had scared away the gazelle. Her quarry gone, she dejectedly made her way back up the tree. I noticed, much to my pleasant surprise, that there were now two leopards in the tree! Through my lens, I could see the coat of another leopard, and told my guide who refused to believe me! I was very delighted and happy to be able to see a mother leopard and her cub together in their natural habitat.
The leopardess again spotted a potential meal, this time a Grant’s gazelle. It was heartening to see her once again make her way down the tree – failure didn’t deter her. This time she was successfully able to stalk the gazelle and make her kill. Though we could not see the actual event, the huge commotion in the grass and her subsequent arrival with the gazelle firmly clamped between her powerful jaws was proof enough! The leopardess dragged the gazelle carcass towards the tree, laboring slowly but steadily. She began her laborious climb, and unfortunately slipped a little. Not one to give up, she resumed her climb, and I was impressed with the leopardess’ tenacity and drive to make it to the top of the tree.
As she climbed, her cub, which was now on the ground, began circling the tree, enamored with his mother’s catch, itching to get a mouthful of the tasty meal she’d snared. The cub started scratching at the tree, calling out to his mom. The leopardess took the kill a little higher, finally finding a large enough branch to put down the gazelle. Not finding his calls effective at drawing his mother’s attention, the cub climbed up the tree himself, and upon reaching the branch where his mother was, could not contain his curiosity and hunger anymore. He tried to take a swipe at the gazelle. Upon which his mother, probably telling him to have patience, immediately growled him at! The poor cub was so stunned by this he could only muster a meek growl back at her. After having given him a piece of her mind, the leopardess then left the tree, making her way back down once again. The cub took a while though, since hunger and his youthful exuberance were playing on his mind, but having already been scolded by his mom once, he finally left too.
Both the leopards then made their way through the savannah. They travelled for about a mile, to an open expanse of land, where finally, the two came to rest upon a log. As soon as the leopardess reached the log, she began calling out. They then moved a little ahead, and once more she began calling out. It was then that a second cub arrived! Together, the family then began their journey back to the tree where a sumptuous meal awaited them… but the watchful eyes of a hyena halted their path up ahead. With two cubs in tow, the leopardess decided that a confrontation wasn’t required, and she altered her path, breaking off from the track, and continuing towards the tree. The cubs, being the young guns they were, continued to the tree undeterred. They arrived at the tree before their mother could, and immediately set about climbing up the big tree, desperate for a good meal! The cubs looked anxiously in the distance for their mother, awaiting her return, so they could start their meal.
While the leopardess made her kill, and the family’s subsequent journey to and fro, they were under the watchful gaze of a group of hyenas, ever the opportunists, who were waiting for a good opportunity to grab the leopard’s hard earned sustenance!
Unfortunately for me, I had to leave this wonderful scene, as it was growing quite dark. The next morning when we returned, the kill was nowhere in sight, even though the leopards were present. I suspected that the hyenas had been able to pry away the kill from the leopards or maybe in the haste the cubs had caused the kill to become dislodged from the tree. My suspicion was confirmed when I located a group of hyenas eating meat at a considerable distance away.
Despite the loss of her first kill, the leopardess showed tremendous resolve, as she climbed down once again, and after having picked out a suitable target, managed to nail another gazelle. This time however, having learnt her lesson, she opted not to take the kill up the tree, and instead called her cubs to where she killed the gazelle, and the family was able to enjoy their meal!
This was a great sighting, one that I shall always remember. As always, Africa never disappoints, and I feel blessed to be able to bask in the heart of nature.
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