A few days ago on a morning game drive in South Luangwa National Park with Kafunta Safaris, we came across a young female leopard that was comfortably tucked away in a sausage tree. She was very sleepy and unfortunately for our camera-equipped guests, she was also not ready to cooperate from a photographic point of view.
We stayed with her for a good 45 minutes, trying to reposition the vehicle for a better view, while she happily continued snoozing, occasionally opening her eyes to check on us.
During the dry season, the sausage tree produces its beautiful nectar-filled red flowers that fall to the ground in the morning and attract herds of impala who adore these treats. As we could spot some impala in the distance, we had high hopes that our leopard’s interest would be piqued. She turned around and started gazing through the foliage, only to fall back into a deep sleep.
We decided it was time to go and carried on with our safari in search of other interesting wildlife.
An hour and a half, and hundreds of buffalos later, we decided to quickly check on our leopard again. As we neared the aforementioned sausage tree, one of our guests spotted a leopard in a thick bush, and we were excited to see it was the female that we had observed earlier. She had finally woken up and come down from her cosy perch!
She was about 200 metres from the tree where we first found her, and started walking back in that direction. Quickly starting the vehicle, we headed for the tree and were surprised to find a freshly killed impala at the foot of it. It turns out that a flower-eating impala had indeed caught the attention of our leopard while we had been off observing buffalos and sleeping elephants!
As the leopard returned to her kill, we thought that she may carry her prey high up into the sausage tree, so we positioned ourselves at the perfect angle to take photos. But she dragged it in the direction of the thickets that she had been inspecting.
As luck would have it we were still in a perfect position as we were right on her path. She passed by only a metre from our vehicle and totally ignored us while stopping every so often to catch her breath and inspect the surroundings. It was unbelievable to see how quickly she moved in spite of the heavy weight that she was lugging in the heat of the day. But she had her mind set and knew exactly where she was heading!
We were captivated by her progression and all jumped when a large male kudu barked its alarm calls. After about 200 metres of dragging the prey, the leopard disappeared – not up a tree but into a very thick and spiky bush where she became instantly invisible.
Despite having missed the actual kill, this sighting was stunning and it was interesting to see that we can never predict what happens in the wild, and that things can change for the better or worse in a split second.