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Encounters of a spotted kind...

By 5 years ago
Categories Limpopo and KZN

Just the other week the volunteers and staff here at GVI Karongwe were treated to one of those special wildlife sightings, the type of sighting that keeps coming up in conversation over and over.  Leopards (Panthera pardus) are fascinating cats, the epitome of feline strength, stealth, and agility.  It is no wonder that any sighting of a leopard is highly regarded and always a sought after treat whilst on game drive.  This encounter proved to be just that.

Scar posing – Notice the diagnostic scar over his left eye

One of our large male leopards named ‘Scar’ (due to scar over his eye) roams a very large portion of the reserve and frequents the south of Karongwe. (You can read more about him in the following previous blog entries: Moments with Scar and Scar, The Resident Big Male Leopard) He is a big leopard and also very relaxed around game viewers so sightings of him are generally wonderful.  After morning drive everyone was on base relaxing, working, having coffee and chatting about the previous night when game drives spotted Scar on a fresh kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) kill not far from base.  That afternoon Andreas and myself decided to go and have a look to see if we would get lucky and spot Scar and confirm that it was actually him.

We came to the kill, still fresh and stinking in the afternoon sun, just off of the main road.  Sitting and searching the area with our binoculars in hand and cameras at the ready all we could see was the kudu, still with a good amount of meat left, but no leopard.  Hot and hungry for lunch we decided to call it a day and began driving out.  Then it happened.  We saw a big male leopard lying relaxed under the branches of a raisin bush (Grewia flavescens) and sure enough, it was Scar!

Staring into his blue eyes it was hard not be awe struck, but this was just the beginning as the sighting evolved.  After about 5 minutes Scar decided to leave the shade of the raisin bush and headed back to the kill.  He began tugging at it, feeding, and ripping out fur while we watched him continually go back for more.  All of this happened as we sat in awe from not 5m away!

Scar eventually moved to a small drainage line to clean himself and get a break from the midday sun.  Eventually, Andreas and I decided to leave this amazing animal.  As we were pulling out toward the main road Andreas spotted another leopard!  This one, a female, was much smaller than Scar and was quickly identified as ‘Treacle’ – A female with a large, central territory and a recently injured right eye.  She was sneaking around coming to investigate the kill. (Read more about Treacle here: Big Cats Galore)

Treacle sneaking toward the carcass – Notice her swollen and bloodshot right eye, presumed inflicted during a recent fight

We watched her as she stalked the dead kudu, being ever weary of the massive male lying relaxed 15m away.  After about 10 minutes she made it down to the kill and cautiously began feeding.  She was fine until she hit a bone and then, crunch!  This was all it took for Scar to immediately take notice.  Before we knew it, Scar was bounding toward Treacle and the kill, growling as he came for her.  Treacle did not hesitate and in an instant was off in the other direction.  The growling Scar, master of his domain, continued to slowly pursue her off into the bush as we sat, mouths agape, not believing what we had just seen!  Check out this short video of the moment Treacle was caught feeding and chased off:

It is sightings like this that volunteers and staff alike will never forget.  A once in a lifetime opportunity to witness two leopards interacting over a fresh kill will not be forgotten easily!

Benjamin Tupper,
SANParks Program Coordinator and Research Assistant
GVI Karongwe