Monday, 8 July 2013
We'd been driving through the South Luangwa National Park with our search light on for an hour post sunset. We hadn't seen much during that time and I was beginning to think of dinner back to the safari lodge.
Then, as we rounded a corner, we caught sight of a leopard in our search light.
No sooner had we seen the leopard than we turned away from the cat, stopped our 4x4 and the search light went out. Silently both our guides slipped out of the car and headed towards the front wheels. Thankfully we weren't leaving the leopard, they were simply locking the differential as it was sandy ground ahead.
With our guides back in the vehicle we started to move forward, slowly tracking the leopard as she weaved through the cover of the long grass. She had an incredibly graceful and light footed movement as she made her way through the grass.
Our search light panned from the leopard to a few small groups of puku and impala in a clearing ahead. A couple of the groups of impala moved away, but one stayed where they were. They seemed a bit skittish, but they weren't running. I couldn't decide if our car was causing them to be alert of they could sense there was a cat not too far away.
As our leopard reached the edge of the long grass her movements changed and became more purposeful. Her body suddenly looked a whole lot more muscular.
Godfrey, our driver, swung our vehicle into the middle of the clearing and killed the engine. We were sitting there in complete darkness. I'd last seen the leopard just five meters from our open sided vehicle. I momentary wondered if she'd fancy a European instead of a puku, and if she did, I was the closest one.
We sat there in silence. Every thirty seconds our second guide, Stephen, would momentarily use the search light to illuminate the sky. From the peripheral light of the beam we could see the leopard had edged forward. She was lying under the bonnet with her tail just visible. The small group of puku still hadn't moved and were standing in the clearing away to my left.
A second blip of the light and we could see that the leopard was inching forward, hugging the ground as she moved. Darkness.
I'm not sure what made Stephen do it, but after what felt like an age, he put the light on again. This time, instead of pointing the beam into the sky he shone it directly at the ground, fixing the leopard in the beam.
She wasn't happy at having her cover blown and quickly danced backwards, round the front of the car and into the long grass. Amazingly the puku hadn't seen her and they stayed where they were around thirty meters to our left.
As humans we'd interfered in the hunt. There wasn't really time to decide what I thought about that as Godfrey started the engine to turn the car round and follow the leopard who was arching round behind us in the long grass.
Godfrey repositioned the car so that we were facing the the puku who were around twenty meters ahead of us now. We killed the lights and this time they stayed off.
We sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity and then we heard a death growl.
Stephen had the light on in a flash and found the leopard almost instantly. She had hold of a puku roughly twice her size near the neck. The puku wasn't giving up and almost as soon as we'd found them with our search light, the puku broke free and ran away.
As the puku scattered our leopard stood there in the middle of the clearing. I was surprised that she didn't have another go and tear after the injured puku which had just broken free.
It was one of the most amazing things I have witnessed in my life. Truly. Incredible.