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.
Excited about finding him still in his tree, we jostled with all the other onlookers for a view but it was short-lived. He soon got up, jumped down from the tree and walked across the road in front of us before heading into the long grass and disappearing. We searched for a while but he was gone. However, we were happy we had seen him and headed off to Red Rocks for the obligatory ‘hope to spot a leopard at sunset on a rock’ drive. Finding nothing, we turned back and headed towards Bakgatla, our campsite during our stay in the park.
On our way we noted the strange lack of traffic but then, the reason became clear. As we rounded a bend before Tshukudu eNtsho Drive, a leopard had just taken down a wildebeest. It musthave happened split seconds before we got there, as the wildebeest was still fighting for its life. We lost track of time in all the excitement but it must have been about seven to 10 minutes before the gnu took its last breath.
We recognised the leopard as the one called Orion. He is a beautiful large animal, but the wildebeest was, of course, much larger. Orion had to hold on for dear life and did not let go of his deadly grip on the wildebeest’s throat until the job was done. He then proceeded to drag his prey to nearby cover, managing just a couple of metres at a time before he had to rest. As he gripped and dragged the large body between rests, he nervously scanned the surroundings to ensure no scavengers or other predators were lurking close by. He was determined not to lose his hard-won dinner. We were the first to arrive from the Red Rocks side as all the rest had been following him from the other side. With a perfect view, we sat and enjoyed the scene while firing away with our Canons.
What a privilege to see this drama unfold right in front of us, a mere 18 m from our vehicle. This was the sighting of a lifetime and the excitement served as proof. We stayed as long as we could before heading off back to camp. At our first encounter, a voluntary ranger had told us Orion’s story. He had recently left his mother and was looking for his own territory, hence his willingness to be seen. He was also clearly hungry and not concerned with hiding while he hunted. We were later told that Orion had reappeared and used the cars as a screen to hunt the wildebeest. Apparently he was still in the area the next morning, having eaten his share and fighting off the brown hyenas overnight.
By mid-morning the bush cleanup crew (brown hyena and jackal) had been there and no evidence of the day before existed, except for our memories and the photos we took. The Pilanesbergjust continues to deliver…
Photo story: Frank Heitmüller
This story was taken from Pilanesberg Self-Drive
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