Safari September 2019 ~ Day Seven

Day 7

At breakfast, the main topic of conversation was the leopard and her cub. Had she managed to carry the male impala up into a tree, or had her kill been stolen during the hours of darkness by lions and hyenas out on the prowl? The general consensus was that the later was the more likely scenario.

Overnight, our camera batteries had been on charge via an extra car battery on the Landcruiser. There was also the option to re-charge batteries as we drove throughout the day. Having a flat battery in your camera was the last thing anyone wanted should a dramatic wildlife moment occur.

As we drove out of camp at sunrise, everyone was poised, with fully charged batteries to capture whatever excitement we might encounter. The first candidate was an elephant about halfway to where we had left the leopards the previous evening. It was lovely to watch the elephant systematically strip a bush of foliage, but I think I was not alone in wanting to move on and find out if the mother and cub were still around.

Well, the answer to that question was that mum was up in a different tree and the cub was lurking in the long grass a few metres away. As we parked up, the mother stood up on the branch she had been stretched out on and started to make her way down the trunk of the tree. Back on the ground, with her front legs out in front of her, she arched her back into a ‘U’ shape with her rear end up in the air. It was a typical feline stretch after waking up from a lazy sleep.

Now, there is nothing worse than having a really good morning stretch interrupted mid-stretch. But that was of no concern to her cub who came bounding over and promptly jumped on her back. Showing much more restraint than I could muster in such a situation, she rolled over and engaged in mutual nuzzling and face licking with her energetic offspring.

Morning greetings over, mum walked off for a few paces and then flopped down to do a bit of self-grooming. From the base of the tree the cub watched intently. Not at its mothers grooming technique, but at the twitching end of her tail. The inevitable pounce came as the cub attacked the flicking tail. That, in turn produced the inevitable chorus of ‘Ahaaa’s from those of us in the vehicle. It was undoubtedly a cute sight to witness.

The leopardess watching the cub feeding

Grooming and tail fighting dealt with, it was time for breakfast and the leopard made her way over to the carcass. It had been moved, presumably by the leopard, away from the original kill site and it now lay under some nearby bushes. The impala was lying on its right side and most of the left side was now missing. She must have been feeding on it during the night, but despite it weighing considerably less now, she had not attempted to lift it up into a tree.

It was unlikely that the carcass wouldn’t be scavenged at some point through the day if it were left on the ground. So, we bid farewell to the leopards and headed off to see what else the day would bring us.

Giraffes and baboons were the main entertainers over the next half hour or so, and then Ace spotted some buffalo. He suggested that we go and take a look at the buffalo and promptly drove off in the opposite direction. Puzzling as that was, we had grown to trust Ace, and we felt confident that he knew what he was doing. About a mile later, still driving away from the buffalo, Ace stopped the vehicle.

“The buffalo will come this way.” he said.

The buffalo herd emerges from the forest

Sure enough, far away in the distance, a column of buffalo emerged from woodland made up of tall trees and started to march in single file across a large open plain towards us. As the vanguard bull buffalo marched slowly and methodically across the flat ground, the column continued to emerge from the trees. Like a column of gigantic black army ants, the buffalo could soon be counted in the hundreds. As we watched, the herd just kept coming and the column got longer and longer. It was quite an extraordinary sight.

The March of the Buffalo

The big bull leading the way had obviously consulted with Ace about which route he would take. Because he led the column past the front of our vehicle at a distance of about 30 metres giving us a perfect view.

Having exhausted the grazing in one area, the huge herd was now on the move to new feeding grounds, and this single file approach was designed to reduce the risk of predator attack. It occurred to me that these buffalo were much more adept at walking in single file than we had been when out on bush walks.

As the herd continued to emerge from the trees, a haze of dust formed. Through the shimmering heat it gave the whole scene a rather surreal look. Mothers kept their calves at heel as they trudged along in line. The occasional beast looked in our direction as they passed by, but mostly they just ignored us.

It wasn’t just the buffalo who were on the move, white cattle egrets ran alongside the column. They darted in and around the legs of the buffalo, feeding on insects disturbed by the relentless march past.

Eventually, the last of the herd could be seen, and the column became less defined as stragglers got distracted looking for some edible grass. As the rear of the herd approached us, a bull turned around and squared up to the bull behind him. His challenge was more or less ignored, and the other bull just walked past him.

As if in frustration at the lack of a willing opponent, the bull bravely attacked a menacing clump of brown grass. The grass did not react to this display of aggression, so the bull dropped to his knees, and with his horns, bull dozed the grass out of the ground.

Delighted by his victory, he got back to his feet and skipped, kicked, and bucked, in a way that suggested that he may have had a miss-spent youth taking part in rodeos. But his exuberance was short lived as he suddenly found himself eyeball to eyeball with the bull he had initially challenged.

Belligerent bucking buffalo bull   (Photo: Malcolm Lind)

The two bulls locked horns and pushed forward against each other. I got the impression that this was not a fight to the death. It was more like a couple of lads having a friendly wrestle.

The bull that had so decisively defeated the clump of grass, broke away with another rodeo style move before coming in to attack again. There was momentary contact as their horns clashed, before he broke away again, turned and ran excitedly after the tail end of the column, which by now had passed by. Ace’s prediction of the route the buffalo would take was a stroke of genius and had provided us with a most spectacular wildlife display. There was a certain level of smugness in the vehicle as we were the only ones to witness it. The other safari vehicles were no doubt parked up with their guests taking yet more photos of sleeping lions.

The buffalo march was going to be a tough act to follow and for the next half hour or so, we saw little of interest. But then a message on the VHF radio changed that. Someone had found wild dogs. With a noticeable increase in speed, Ace drove off in the direction of the sighting.

Two other vehicles were present when we arrived. In the shade of a tree there were a series of shallow depressions scared out in the sandy soil. Each hollow was occupied by either one or two wild dogs and two thirds of them seemed to be sound asleep. There was a mix of adults and pups and in a way that many will be familiar with, it was the adults trying to catch forty winks but being pestered by the pups for attention. There was nuzzling and licking aplenty and where it was not reciprocated, a pup would get up and flop down in another a hollow in search of a better response.

While all of this was going on, there were always one or two of the pack keeping a watchful eye on the surroundings. If danger, or potential food, should come along it would not go unnoticed.

The line of relaxing dogs was about to run out of shade as the shadow of the trees moved around. One of the adults, possibly the alpha male, decided to move, and a tree about 30 metres away apparently seemed a better option. The dog, in a very relaxed and unhurried way, wandered over to the new tree, pausing to scent a low hanging branch. One by one the rest of the pack responded. They got to their feet, stretched, yawned, engaged in some vigorous scratching, and then slowly followed, pausing to sniff the same branch.

Wild Dog Pup

Over at the new tree, some of the adults flopped down in the shaded areas whilst others sat and looked around them, surveying the surrounding area. The pups made a bee line for the trunk of the tree and immediately engaged in a game of hide, seek, pounce and bite ears.

In total, there were seven pups and eight or nine adults. This was undoubtedly a pack that were intent on seeing out the heat of the day in a chilled stress-free fashion, so we moved on.

Taking a leaf out of the wild dog’s book, Ace found us a large tree and parked up in the shade. Coffee time. It was good to get out and stretch the legs, albeit within fifty metres or so of the safety of the vehicle.

Reinvigorated with coffee and cake, we drove off in search of excitement. It came in the form of a relaxing black backed jackal and we stopped to take a closer look. Something told me that this particular jackal was not impressed by the sudden arrival of camera laden tourists, as he slowly stood up, took a couple of steps, defecated, and walked off into the bush.

Black Backed Jackal

Jackal makes his opinion of us clear

A short while later we spotted some more buffalo in a lightly wooded area. One stood out from the crowd by virtue of the section of branch he was sporting from his right horn. As it dangled down, from a distance it looked like he was sporting a large pendulous earring.

Suddenly, Ace spotted a large bird of prey flying overhead. It was a Bateleur eagle and it appeared to be carrying a snake in its beak.

Snake or nesting material?

Bateleur Eagle (photo by Derek Keats)

I did manage to grab a couple of photographs but discovered on reviewing them that the snake the eagle was carrying was more than likely some nesting material. Even so, it was still exciting to see this colourful eagle flying by.

The heat was now building and the breeze as we drove along was most welcome. Creatures were seeking out what shade they could to escape from the midday sun.

As lunch approached, Ace took us to a beautiful  water hole. We found a spot underneath a tree overlooking the water and got the camping chairs out from a compartment in the rear of the Landcruiser. As well as lunch, we had a well-stocked fridge onboard full of chilled beer, water and soft drinks. This was the life!

A relaxing lunch in the Delta

As we sat in our camping chairs, eating a variety of salads and pastas, we felt very privileged to be dining alfresco in such a beautiful setting. On the far side of the water, a herd of impala walked along the bank. Several lechwe relaxed as if sunbathing on a beach. Herons, egrets, darters, and lapwings busied themselves in and around the reeds, while overhead a yellow billed kite perched on the branch of a nearby dead tree. We spent a good hour simply chatting, watching the wildlife, and enjoying the moment.

Yellow Billed Kite

Back on the road, we meandered through the web of dirt tracks passing all the usual suspects of buffalo, elephant, zebra, impala and lots more, but everyone was wandering what had happened during the day to the leopard and her cub. Was she still there? Had something stolen her kill? There was only one way to find out.

We returned to the trees where we had seen them at sunrise, and there she was. The leopardess was stretched out in the long grass, panting in the heat with her eyes closed. She looked well fed and totally unconcerned. The impala carcass was missing, as was the cub. However, the delicate aroma of rotting impala wafting in the warm evening air told us that the carcass was definitely somewhere near.

And then we spotted it. It was in a cavity created by the dislodged roots of a fallen tree. Presumably, the leopardess had dragged it into this small space to hide it from scavengers. A huge cloud of black flies suddenly erupted from the body cavity of the impala as the  leopard cub emerged from the depths of the carcass. I could have sworn that it was grinning.

Cub emerges over the carcass from amongst the tree roots

The cub bounded over to its mother who then proceeded to lick and clean it. Satisfied that junior was once again clean and well fed, she rose to her feet and wandered over to tuck into the remains under the tree roots. Being so much bigger than her cub, she was finding it difficult to reach the meat at the back of the root cavity. So, with a big tug, she dragged the carcass out for easier access to the juicy bits. It was interesting to note that they did not feed together. The cub and the mother very much took it in turns at the dinner table.

Leopard checking for threats after pulling the carcass into the open

Once again, time was beating us. The sun was setting behind us and we had to return to camp before dark in accordance with the rules of the reserve. Ace let us watch the leopards for as long as he could but as the sun sunk below the delta’s skyline, we left these magnificent creatures in peace to enjoy their decomposing, putrid meal.

Sunset was our cue to return to camp

It had been another wonderful day in the Okavango.

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