We’d seen lions and elephants and the like in Botswana’s Chobe National Park. But no leopards. Our guide Leslie assured us that we’d see some when we returned to South Africa on safari in Kruger National Park.
We were ready. We’d taken two days off from our safari routine to drive to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Some of the adventure was getting through the red tape of border security but seeing the same waterfall that David Livingston discovered and named in honor of Queen Victoria in 1855 was worth any delay. It’s twice the height and width of Niagara Falls so really impressive, even during the dry season. They told us that when the Zambezi River is fully swollen during the summer wet season, you can’t see too much due to the mist and spray from the falls. (In their local language, the people there had called the falls “The Smoke that Thunders”).
It took a plane and a bus ride to get to the Inyati Lodge on a private preserve adjacent to Kruger National Park, South Africa. There we’d take an early morning (6:30 a.m.) open-air safari that ended back at the lodge for a late breakfast, then an afternoon trip (3:30 p.m. that wrapped up at nightfall and dinner).
I mentioned that our drivers kept in radio communication to report exciting finds they’d come across. We were informed only that “We have something” as the vehicle accelerated. One of our early treats was our first leopard sighting. This was a beautiful female, lying on a boulder among some trees. A closer look, as pointed out by our driver Diff, was a cub playing with the mother’s tail.
As the cub moved, climbing over the resting adult, it had a noticeable limp. Diff speculated the youngster was injured while jumping. We’d come across the same leopard and cub several more times during our four days at the preserve and each time, the cub’s mobility seemed a little improved.
Note that while we were parked near this mother and child, her eyes were like one of those photos where her intense stare never left us. We’d also watch a pair of male leopards making their parallel paths through the savannah woodlands, apparently in a territory-claiming maneuver.
Our final viewing of the female found her on a different boulder between two trees. She came down towards our vehicle, then turned to look back towards that resting spot. She called out in a mewing plea and after a moment, the cub appeared on the boulder. Our driver told us that she’d killed an impala and after she and her cub had eaten their fill, the male carried the prey into a tree for his share and to keep it from scavengers.
Diff pointed behind us where we hadn’t been looking. Maybe 30 feet away, 15 feet up straddling a tree limb, was that male, the impala beneath him. With a full stomach, his stare was more sleepy than intense. We drove even closer for a better look.