Written by: Mario Paul
A while ago I witnessed this incredible scene on the Orpen Dam loop of a leopard attacking an unsuspecting impala mid-air in what can only be described as a sighting of epic proportions.
That morning, I picked-up two French guests from their hotel for a three day safari in the Kruger National Park with Vula Tours. We were at Tshokwane picnic spot for breakfast when my gut feeling told me to go drive the Orpen Dam loop.
We had the most amazing drive before breakfast which included seeing four of the Big Five. We just needed a leopard sighting to get a full house. But as any seasoned safari-goer knows, this is easier said than done, especially in that area. So I decided to follow my gut and proceeded to the loop.
As luck would have it, as we drove down into the cement causeway something caught my eye. There it was – a big male leopard staring right at me not even five metres away.
He was quite nervous but soon relaxed and proceeded to have a drink of water at the only available source, a hole that had been dug by elephants.
We watched him for about four minutes when a second vehicle arrived and he got scared and quickly moved away. He then stopped about 25 metres from us, looked back and then slipped in under the reeds.
I knew then that this leopard did not go into those reeds to hide from us, but because it was the perfect position for an ambush. Any unsuspecting victims that would come down to drink would have to pass by very close to him and they would never be able to spot him.
Furthermore, the wind was blowing quite hard and in the perfect direction that made him quite literally invisible. The prey couldn’t see him because of his perfectly camouflaged coat and hiding place, they couldn’t hear him because of the wind blowing and they couldn’t smell him because his smell was blown away by the wind.
Taking all these facts into account I was pretty confident that this leopard would be able to complete a successful hunt. Because we had such a good morning, it was not very difficult to convince my two guests to stick around and see if something would happen.
45 minutes went by with absolutely nothing happening. Another safari vehicle arrived and I told the guide where this leopard was hiding. As we were speaking, a herd of male impala appeared from over the hill. We patiently waited for this herd to move in but they were only interested in chasing each other around.
It is the rutting season of the impala and the only thing the males have on their mind now are the ladies and to mate with as many as possible. While watching them chase each other around about 40 metres from where the leopard was hiding, something caught my eye.
There was another herd of impala coming down to drink water from behind us. They were walking straight in to the water and that’s when the adrenaline started pumping. As they got closer they started to slow down and look around. Prey animals are always very cautious when approaching watering holes because of the fact that predators will lie in ambush to attack them.
The males approached first and walked past the leopard. At this point I thought he would make a move but he did not. He was waiting for that one moment where everything would be perfect. That moment then presented itself.
A male impala chased one of the females in the bid to try and mate with her. Unfortunately this love story didn’t turn out so well. He chased her straight to where the leopard was lying in ambush. As she ran past the rock next to the bush she spotted the leopard and tried to jump up as high as possible in a bid to get away from the him.
Unfortunately for her, her efforts weren’t enough, as the leopard came out of the reeds like a bullet from the barrel of a gun and caught her mid-air before crashing down to earth with her in his claws. The force with which he hit her and the subsequent crashing down caused his claws to slice open a big gash on the shoulders of the impala.
He went for the windpipe and quickly dragged her off to a nearby bush where he then started to feed on her.
We couldn’t believe what we just witnessed. We and the other vehicle were the only ones to witness it, but us three were the only ones to see the complete hunt from finish to start. An experience that will be remembered forever!