Always alert and always prepared, a phrase I would use to sum up most of my leopard encounters.
I often find myself in the company of leopards, watching them casually walking down a gravel road marking their territories or see them resting in the shade, simply minding their own business. Then all of sudden something will grab their attention.
This might happen in many ways. Either another animal will walk within view of the leopard or simply enter the immediate environment totally unaware of the leopard’s presence. Other times the leopard might pick up sounds of nearby impala rutting, a change in the wind presenting the scent of a warthog grazing nearby. Whichever clues are presented, a leopard will often go and investigate.
One morning I was fortunate to spend time with a young male leopard called Tavangumi. As always, he was simply strolling around and seemed to have his bearings fixed on a certain direction.
As he neared a small thicket, something caught his eye. He paused, pointed all his senses in the direction of the movement and focused all his attention on the tree line.
What had he spotted? Was it another predator? Was it a potential meal? Tavangumi approached cautiously, yet swiftly at the same time.
At first I could not see what caught his attention. He would not drop his gaze so I knew it would be worth sticking it out and see what was hidden behind thick green foliage. I eventually got a gap between the leaves and grabbed a glimpse of orange.
The thickets formed little pockets, with gaps just too large to allow the leopard to move stealthily between the trees. Tavangumi made an attempt to stalk ever closer, risking a gap to hone in on his prey.
All eyes and ears were solely focused on the impala. By now I was sure that the leopard would be successful with his hunt. He was only a couple of pounces away from the antelope. Tavangumi managed to creep up to the closet pocket of trees. He now had no moves left to edge closer to the impala. His options from here were either go big or go home.
Before Tavangumi could even make another decision, the impala caught a whiff of the predator. The impala let out a lively alarm call. Game over for Tavangumi. His position had been discovered and the upper hand was gone.
Tavangumi sat up, revealing his position. The impala kept alarm calling while keeping a watchful eye on the leopard. The leopard got up and moved out of the area. I could nearly see the anguish and frustration written on his face.