The day after Christmas was rainy and overcast. With lunchtime approaching, we took Tshwene Drive to get to the Pilanesberg Centre. As we passed the Motlobo turn-off, my senses heightened. We were approaching one of the leopard hotspots of the park. I automatically slowed down. Would we be lucky today?
African wild dogs are sometimes referred to as ‘painted wolves’. They are closely related to the black-backed jackal which is a common sight in the Pilanesberg. Both of them have conspicuous erect ears and a long muzzle that ends in a hairless fleshy area that encloses the nostrils. Bushy tails and long slender legs also count as common traits but their feeding habits are dissimilar.
I was about to join Kubu Drive and accept that Mankwe Way would not produce any results on this day, when I heard the excited cawing of a pair of pied crows. I stopped to watch their strange behaviour. They were dive-bombing something in the tall grass. Reversing to get in line with the spot where the action was taking place, I scanned the area, suspecting their unusual antics were probably caused by the presence of a predator.
It was an afternoon to remember – the stars must have aligned for us. We had been watching some lions close to the Pilanesberg Centre earlier in the afternoon when we heard rumours of a leopard in a tree on the way to the Mankwe Hide. We are not in the habit of chasing sightings but we really wanted to see a leopard. We headed off in a puff of… fairy dust.
Good wildlife photography used to be rare. Years ago when we found good images we were like kids discovering the secrets of sugar. We would salivate through magazines like National Geographic and metaphorically lick the sweet animal images off every page.