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It all started at about 10 o'clock on Monday morning. The monkeys outside our house started alarm calling and scattered to the treetops.
We decided to go into the river bed and investigate.
We watched the monkeys high up in the trees but couldn't spot anything on the ground. We figured a leopard must have passed through. We went home and forgot about it. During the day the impala passed by, but they all stopped at the gulley and looked at the scotia tree - not their normal behaviour when they pass our house. The nyala did the same.
That evening at about 6 pm, as we sat around our fire, a leopard came to drink from our pond. Usually the leopards come from one direction, drink, and move off in another direction. This time the leopard came from the gulley, drank, and returned to the gulley. A little later four hyenas appeared, looking very unsettled, and hung around the gulley all evening. We suspected then that perhaps there was a kill close by. We scoured the gulley with our binoculars, but couldn't pick up anything.
The following morning, I made a cup of tea, got comfortable outside, and scanned around the gully. Lying peacefully on the opposite bank of the gulley was a leopard. I called Chris and as he came outside the leopard walked down towards the river bed. We checked our camera trap and a leopard had come down to drink from our pond early that morning.
Later in the day a family of warthogs came by, and as they passed the gulley they all put their scruffs up. They drank from the pond and went back to the gulley, keeping their scruffs up. They remained for a long time and we decided the leopard must have moved off and it would be safe to investigate. We carefully stepped off our patio and as we started to walk slowly towards the warthogs and the gulley, a leopard literally swung from the branches and quickly disappeared. Our suspicions were now confirmed - there definitely was a leopard on a kill.
Later in the day we saw the leopard return and with our binoculars, through the thick vegetation, we could see leopard spots! There was literally one spot on our patio where we had visual of just spots. Throughout the day we kept checking and could hear crunching of bones. At one stage, we could clearly see the leopard’s tail hanging down.
That evening we enjoyed our braai to the sound of bone crunching.
On Wednesday, we could still just see the leopard spots through the thick vegetation. We had invited friends for dinner and as we set up outside, the leopard drank and went back to the tree. We were enjoying the evening, four hyenas constantly lingering around the tree. Twice during the evening there was a huge commotion and the hyenas came scuttling out of the gulley but they soon returned. We suspected the hyenas and leopard were having a standoff.
Then Barnes called on the radio to say there was an injured leopard lying up against our fence. We got into the Landy and went to investigate. It was a large leopard with a gash on its right thigh. Was this the result of the skirmish we kept hearing between the leopard and hyenas? The leopard slowly walked back to the gulley and after a while moved into the open.
John Llewellyn called to ask if he could come and see the injured leopard. He and Natalie came by as did a couple of other friends. We chatted a while and discussed the goings on in the gulley. They then left.
Back on our patio Paul de Luca said he felt the injury was not a recent injury, there was no blood running down the leg. We decided to look at the earlier camera trap photos on the laptop. The photos showed no injury, and we also realised that the leopard with an injury was much larger than the one in the photos! Were there two leopards?
As we were pondering the possibilities, our peace was shattered. There was a sudden explosion from the gulley. A simultaneous raucous of roaring, snapping, growling, hissing, and as we looked up expecting to see the hyenas running away, two leopards ran straight towards us from the gulley at lightning speed. We froze. As they reached our patio they veered away from us as the smaller leopard chased after the bigger injured leopard, into the bush and around the back of our house. We all quickly moved in, hearts racing. We were all speechless. We poured ourselves a much-needed drink, and sat inside pondering what could have happened had the leopards not turned away from us.
Needless to say, we didn't go out onto our patio again that evening!
We sat inside thinking the leopards had gone, when we saw the big injured leopard walking back to the gulley and then out into the open plain. By this time everyone in camp was out looking as they had all heard the commotion. The leopard sat for quite a while, allowing everyone the chance to see him.
That night we had at least two leopards calling almost the whole night, as though they were trying to lay territorial claim.
What was interesting was that nothing drank from the pond for at least a week after the event. For example, impalas would approach the water and then suddenly jump back. We were not able to find any evidence of spraying by leopards anywhere near the pond.
We have been Members of Ingwelala for many years and had amazing experiences during this time. However, this leopard experience must top the list as our most frightening experience. One that won't be forgotten.
The moral of the story - never assume you are safe because you are in camp. There could be a leopard behind any bush, up any tree. Or literally on your doorstep!
by Chris & Auriel Thorpe #197