An “Awwe” Filled Moment

Wildlife Spotlight | 30th September 2019

This is the fifth in a series of posts from Ranger Sean Jones, sharing his experiences at Shambala Private Game Reserve.

At times it can be quite the challenge to wake up in the early mornings. But going on Safari makes it worth the while – each drive having unexpected excitement, with everyone looking for that one moment that takes your breath away. One early morning on Shambala, my guests and I were huddled around the bar area for a quick morning coffee just to get our wits about us. We were discussing the route we were going to take on our safari across the reserve, and which animals would be in each person’s interest to see, and ofcourse a Leopard was the main mammal being mentioned by many, being one of the most rare of all sightings, with only 10% of people coming to Africa having the luck to see one. With excitement now flowing, we took our final sip of coffee and once everyone’s eyes were opened we set out on our morning Game Drive.

There was a chilly breeze in the air and it took some time for everyone to get settled in their positions on the cruiser, some covering their legs with blankets, others further enjoying their “take away” coffees. We saw a few Kudu and Warthogs as we drove on, and engaged in conversation on these intriguing animals. As we came down one hilly area, still chatting on about the beautiful lines running down the body of a Kudu, I suddenly saw something sitting in the road quite a distance ahead of us. Looking at the posture and the fact that I could now see it licking, what looked like its paw, I thought it to be a Hyaena, and I explained this to the guests behind me as we approached this mysterious animal.

As we came closer, the animal grew more wary of us and slowly started moving away into the grass. By now we were all edged on our seats, with our eyes focussed, trying to see what kind of an animal it may be. We temporarily lost view of it as it moved through the long grass, but as we came around a bend in the road I noticed the twitch of an ear and could see it hiding behind a log, about 20 metres away. My head raised slightly as I softly exclaimed “Leopard!”. It was an “Awe” filled moment as everyone on the vehicle now had big eyes and no sense of words. We sat silently as the young female Leopard looked straight at us, still thinking it is well concealed and hidden from us in the long grass behind the log.

I could hear pictures being taken from behind, and I tried reaching for my camera. It was at this moment that the leopard realised it was no longer hidden from our view and decided to take a jog in zigzag form towards the next bend in the road to try and evade. I put my camera on my lap and slowly pursued, following the curves in the road. The leopard was slightly anxious and skittish so I didn’t want to get too close and scare it off, so I gave the young cat plenty of room. She didn’t know what to make of us and kept looking back to see what the peculiar thing is that is following her. It was at that moment, as she looked back whilst standing in the road, that I managed to get a picture of this beautiful, shy, spotted cat.

We continued slowly following her at a distance. Leopards are usually nocturnal so it was to our delight to see one during the time of day. These big cats are very elusive and masters of camouflage using stealth to catch their prey. They walk with their claws retracted to make as little sound as possible in order to get really close to their prey before launching the attack. The prey animal is usually completely unaware of the Leopard until it initiates the attack at 60 kms/h by which time it is too late to react. I carried on following the leopard until she decided to move off into the bush, down the gorge and in the blink of an eye the leopard was gone, as if it hadn’t even been there.

We all took one big gasp and smiled at our great fortune, before going along the road down the gorge. Setting out on safari that morning, we wouldn’t have thought of being so lucky as to seeing a leopard. But as fate would have it, luck appears to be in the most unlikely of places, you just have to look.

Ranger Sean Jones
Shambala Private Game Reserve


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