Rattray’s Mala Mala - Day Thirteen

Met our car mates at dinner last evening. Young couple from Florida who seem very pleasant, sure that we’ll get along. Hungry leopard, Mala Mala, South Africa. February 2012.Morning started clear but clouds began to build as our drive progressed. Found the large 5 year old leopard that could hardly move after his impala feast of two nights ago. His belly was significantly smaller and he was clearly gearing himself up to begin to hunt again. Tracked him to a sand bank in mid-river and got some great shots of him sunning himself on top of the sand pile. More cape buffalo, wildebeest, rhinos, etc and had a great time photographing them. Young couple seem comfortable with our approach to safari drives so should all work well. Clouds that had been building up all morning opened up and the rain began at about 7:30. I had brought a rain jacket but used it to wrap my cameras and lenses. Yuri passed out ponchos but by the time we got them on and were sorted, we were drenched, so rain capes are more about process than outcome; not sure I’ll bother next time.

Back for dry clothes and breakfast. Left again about 16:00 for afternoon drive and what turned out to be our day of leopards. Yuri drove to country that we had not yet driven over; much more broken, boggy and filled with old dead trees, logs and rocky outcroppings. Yuri, had heard that a leopard had been seen in the district and was determined to find it. Thank goodness for Land Rovers as it got a full workout. We couldn’t see anything but Yuri kept tracking through very difficult terrain that required lots of climbing over logs and banging our way over boulders and boggy bits. He finally turned the engine off and whispered to us, “Can you see him?”. Nothing but broken shrubs and tall grass and then as soon as you found him you wondered how you had missed it; a large leopard in a patch of tall grass about 2 metres in front of the LR. He preened himself then began walking through the tall grass.Yuri chugged the LR in a wide arc, seemingly away from where the leopard was heading, turned off the engine and whispered to us “Watch that gap in the trees.“. After about 5 minutes, the leopard appeared, stalking through the grass. This game of tag went on for at least 1/2 hour, with Yuri always seeming to know where the leopard would go next. Finally, we came up to him, once again preening himself, then he slowly got to his feet on the edge of a clump of tall bushes, went dead still for perhaps 5 minutes, without even the tip of his tail moving and then with an astounding bound dove into the clump of bushes just in front of the LR. With a screech, a large bird that had been hiding, burst into the air and escaped. No lunch for the leopard but an incredibly thrilling sight for us, literally right in the middle of it. Of course, like any cat, once his prey had escaped, he lay down on the grass and began to lick himself, trying to project the impression but failing miserably, that it didn’t really matter after all and that he hadn’t really meant to catch it. Cats really hate to be embarrassed.

After that found another leopard stalking a couple of large antelope but they too escaped, so final tally, prey 3, leopards 0.

A Cape Buffalo, one of South Africa's most dangerous animals, eying us warily. Mala Mala. February 2013. Original size 4094x3173px. (Gerald FitzGerald)On the way home came across a Cape Buffalo, an animal Yuri claims is the most dangerous of all. Enormously powerful, fast and entirely unpredictable. Not good to meet on foot without a sturdy tree to climb very near to hand.

A quick aside about Yuri. Young Afrikaner, 23 years old and a BA in Wildlife Management. Very bright, self-possessed, cheerful with EQ coming out of fingers and toes and a fabulous tracker and deeply knowledgeable about animals, birds and plants. Not Russian but claims that his mother had seen Doctor Zhivago many times and was determined to name her son Yuri. Clearly passionately in love with the country and the animals. I think we got the pick of the litter.

Rattray's Mala Mala - Day Fourteen

Rattray’s Mala Mala - Day Twelve