Written by: Greg McCall-Peat
Life in the bush isn’t easy. Add to that the fact that we are in the middle of one of the worst droughts in history. There is so much pressure on animals just to survive. The herbivores need to travel a huge distance to find food and water, and the predators have a hard time stalking up to their prey in a landscape void of most of it usual vegetation to conceal them.
Despite these factors, which stack against the predators in particular, they still manage to take down prey animals. But then there is the even bigger problem… keeping it.
Currently here at Umlani Bush Camp in the Timbavati, our hyena clan is close to 40 strong and any predator, including the mighty lion, has a hard time keeping them at bay. So with that being said I will tell you a story about a beloved female leopard, named Marula, who had just such an encounter after making a kill. How she handled it was nothing less than extraordinary.
We left the lodge one afternoon on a game drive with guests, in the hopes of finding a leopard. They had been rather elusive over the past couple of days. As we meandered down the many networks of bush tracks we checked all the regular haunts and hot spots for our leopards. But not a track or sign could be found. After a while we made our way to the hyena den to at least entertain ourselves for a while with the hope that one of the other vehicles would be lucky and find a leopard in the meantime. We had been at the den for about five minutes when low and behold there was a call on the radio. Someone had found our female Marula and she was on a kill. So we promptly left the hyena den and made our way to the leopard sighting.
As we arrived, we found the female leopard lying up on the bank of a drainage line and her kill lying roughly 4 metres from her on the opposite side. She was intently staring in one direction when all of a sudden a lone hyena materialised from a nearby thicket.
At first glance Marula shot up the nearest tree and left the hyena to sniff around here and there until he inevitably found the carcass that was stashed under a bush. Marula could only watch as her hard earned meal began to disappear before her very eyes. We couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, as she almost had a disappointed look on her face. But her loss was the hyenas gain and in times of trial such as the drought, no chance of a free meal can be neglected.
As soon as the hyena started feeding, Marula descended from the tree and lay down at its base. A surprising move, as usually a leopard, especially a female, will move away from a hyena. But the strain of the drought had an effect on her too and she lay watching the hyena feed while drifting in and out of sleep.
Little did we know she was really just biding her time.
We stayed with the two for some time as the hyena greedily devoured the kill, and Marula slept under a rising full moon. We then headed back to camp.
It was only the following morning that the true glory of the sighting was to be revealed. It seemed that the leopard hanging around while the hyena fed had ulterior motives. When the rangers returned to the sighting the following morning they found that Marula had stolen back her kill. This was a huge risk for her to have taken but worth the reward.
This whole sighting shows how animals will go to great lengths in difficult times in order to survive and nature throws in the odd curve ball to keep things interesting.