Mornings on safari in the Little Karoo all start in a fairly conventional way with tea and coffee in the lounge and a quick chat to find out what the sighting goals will be for the day. Friday the 24th of September (which was also Heritage Day in South Africa) started off like this, just like any other day.
The guests that I had the pleasure to guide from Dwyka Tented Lodge were eager to see the lions. Fortunately, the day prior they had a great sighting of lions feeding on a double red hartebeest kill and I took the opportunity to propose an alternative approach. I am prone to listen to my instincts, and the previous evening my gut was telling me to drive along one of the tracks beneath the Warmwaterberg mountains. This feeling did not leave me, so I persuaded my guests to err on the side of adventure and follow my plan. One of our guests had a keen interest in fossils, so it was a good opportunity to show him some of the many fossil sites across Sanbona.
On route towards the hidden pans, we found some leopard tracks heading west – they were about 2 days old, but it was a sign. We continued through one of the beautiful thick scotia valleys, observing signs of a black rhino bull marking his territory and watching some big eland bulls enjoying the morning sun. As we kept on driving, passing through a narrow valley. As we exited the valley, my eyes caught a murder of crows mobbing something ‘cat-like’ about 100m in front of the vehicle in the vygies [succulent plant species]. Suddenly the ‘cat-like’ creature bolted, and I could see the long, elegant tail with a big white tip. I shouted “Leopard!!!!!!!” to my guests.
Now you must understand that leopard sightings are very rare on Sanbona. Years of research conducted by our conservation team with the assistance of camera traps have confirmed leopard presence on Sanbona, and various individuals have been identified. I have personally had a couple of brief glimpses and heard them vocalizing before, but never ever have I taken a photo of one.
I had a suspicion that this leopard we saw made a red hartebeest kill, since I had noticed their tracks in the area. This was confirmed the next day by my fellow field guide, Chris. The following afternoon, I went back to the area and found the leopard staring at me from a distance. I respectfully thanked him for being there and left. We may never have an abundance of leopard sightings like in the Kruger National Park lowveld region, but we will have exclusive sightings that only Sanbona in the arid Little Karoo can provide – keep your eyes open and trust the gut.
All images and content provided by Senior Guide, Marco Fitchet