The night sky was alive with millions of bright shining stars, no light pollution to hide their majestic glow. There was a subtle cool breeze whispering through the trees, almost as if welcoming us to its ‘humble abode.’ From my seat on a camp chair in front of the blazing fire, I could hear the eerie “whoop” call of a spotted hyena, the crunching and snapping sound of branches being broken by elephants browsing, and the distant call of jackals as they searched for one another in the complete darkness of night.
I must have fallen asleep because at 4:00am the alarm went off, screaming at me to get up. I got the camera ready, poured hot coffee into my favourite Kruger Park cup and departed for the Crocodile Bridge gate for an early morning drive. Today I had a ‘simple’ request – to see a leopard in a tree! Little did I know what was lying ahead of me that day.
The road would lead us on the ever turning paths between Lower Sabie and Skukuza along the magnificent Sabie River. We encountered elephants swimming in the water that morning, little ones splashing around chasing each other, big ones running, almost falling into the water. Sometimes we would see something poke out the water to realise it was an elephant completely submerged with only the tip of the trunk sticking out for a gasp of fresh morning air.
We came to a turn off point and driving slowly we saw nothing; no antelope, no monkeys, no birds, or insects, not even elephant poo on the roads! And as we took the final corner, there next to the road was a dead tree, and in that dead tree was a very lively leopard! I could not believe my eyes!
This beautiful, majestic cat was less than 2 metres away from our car just, staring at me. For about 30 minutes we sat watching the leopard. She was so close to the car I could almost not take any photos as she could barely fit within the frame (I had a 150-500mm lens and I could almost count the legs of the fleas on her pelt).
The leopard then quietly hopped off, walked in front of the car and melted away into the bush as she left us completely awe-struck and in disbelief.