Out of the darkness. A special sighting at Umkumbe Safari Lodge Riverside.

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Emerging from the shadows, this pregnant leopard initially hesitated when she saw our vehicle. However her confidence grew as she sought to quench her thirst. My aspiration is for her to nurture her cub to maturity, witnessing its successful growth into adulthood and the beginning of its independent life.

 

 

 

It was towards the end of an afternoon drive and we had stopped to admire the impending sunset.

The spectacular colours of an African sky in the evening never cease to impress me, and no two are alike. Here the trees and clouds add layers to what was proving to be a special evening.

Chatting as we gathered in the dusk around the vehicle, sipping drinks and enjoying the snacks, we were unaware of what lay in store for us before the drive was complete.

 

 

 

Jessie, our field guide, with help from her tracker, was busy unpacking the drinks and snacks that are imperative for a successful sundowner stop.

Aside from the recognizable beverages, it is a time for international guests to get to grips with the likes of Amarula(similar to an Irish Cream) as well as the taste of biltong and dried wors. It is not easy to explain the latter. However, once sampled, guests often cannot stop dipping into the tiffens spread out on the table set up near the vehicle.

 

 

 

Lodges use tiffins to pack meals or snacks to take with them on game drives as they separate the snack food into isolated compartments to keep it fresh. and ready to go.

(Image for illustrative purposes only.)

My particular favourite sundowner snack? Dried mango. Thank you for asking.

 

 

 

With our comfort break over, we picked up on the tracks of a herd of buffalo that led us to this scene at a waterhole not too far away.

Buffalo are interesting as they pee, poop and drink from the same water source. Yet they don’t get ill. Humans would be dead in a heartbeat if they tried that. But I suppose it has everything to do with diet. Being herbivores, the buffalo are returning nitrates into the water and not polluting it.

Here in South Africa, they can live in herds of up to a few hundred, as large herds are part of their anti-predator adaptations. Safety in numbers with the females and young being protected by the more mature bulls.

Did you know? A herd of buffalo is often referred to as a gang or obstinacy.

 

 

 

There is always one individual that looks at you like you owe him money… An impressive pair of horns that you do not want to come into contact with.

Did you know that the herd is led by a pathfinder? They are not necessarily the dominant animal but act as the leader of the group and determine where the herd will move.

After watching the herd splashing about in the water and the young bulls mock fighting amongst each other, Jessie decided that it was time to head back to the lodge and the buffet dinner that awaited us.

But all that was about to change when our tracker uttered a solitary word that stopped the vehicle in its tracks…”INGWE” (IsiZulu for leopard) was whispered and all those on the vehicle peered into the darkness, to be rewarded with…

 

 

 

This young pregnant female leopard making an appearance. Unexpectedly and without alerting the leaving buffalo to her presence, she appeared in our spotlight.

Unlike a pride of lions that can be noisy when coming to water, leopards, being solitary, arrive like Ninjas…in total silence.

 

 

 

She slowly made her way via a circuitous route to the edge of the dam that the buffalo had recently vacated and proceeded to slake her thirst, cautiously at first then with more confidence as she realized that our vehicle did not pose a threat.

In all my years of wildlife photography, this is only the second time I have been able to watch and photograph a leopard drinking. It was so quiet that we could hear her tongue lapping the water into her mouth.

 

 

 

Time for reflection?

 

 

 

A thoughtful moment. Should I stay or go?

The eyes of predators seem to be able to see into your soul and sitting as we had done with this female, I certainly felt that I was being ‘seen’ to my innermost core. An experience that, when it happens, is never forgotten.

 

 

 

Time to leave…

 

 

 

She slowly walked past our vehicle, eyes focussed on the darkness beyond us, as she vanished in the direction from which she had first arrived.

An overwhelming sense of gratitude washed over me as I watched her vanish into the night.

I hoped that she would give birth to a healthy cub that would survive and, more importantly, thrive in the reserve. Life for leopard cubs (and their mothers) can be fraught with danger.

Sad but true…Often the youngsters do not make it past their first full year. It is only when the cubs are about two years old that they get to live on their own.

 

 

 

With all the guests in the vehicle still on a high from the leopard sighting, finding this chameleon was yet another special sighting and a great way to end the drive.

Our experiences certainly made for great fireside tales when we got back to the lodge and got to interact with the other guests.

 

 

 

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