The sun’s journey across the daytime sky is nearing the horizon.
Losing strength the warmth of day is replaced by a early evening chill.
A Cape Turtle-dove is still proudly calling from the low branches of a Marula Tree, and a small flock of Helmeted Guineafowl are passing below en-route to their familiar roost. In the distance a Crested Francolin calls sharply as it’s disturbed by something passing by.
A herd of Cape buffalo have just quenched their thirst from a seasonal rain-filled pan and are slowly moving along whilst feeding, staying true to their somewhat nocturnal habits. On the horizon a large elephant bulls bids farewell to the end of another day in Africa and welcomes the approach of dusk.
As the lower rim of the sun touches the earth gently to the west it is replaced by a red full moon to the east, a blood moon filled with deadly intentions. The last rays of sunlight relinquishes its grip and is consumed now by the cover of darkness.
Soon the shadows of the night will come to life, the ghosts that own the blackness.
A coalition of large male lions have woken from their daytime slumber. Their heads are up and they are listening intently at the sounds of darkness surrounding them. There’s no fear within their bones, no place for terror within their magnificent existence. The Southern males are the frightening owners of this land, undisputed rulers of their territory. Their ears are attuned to the slightest of sounds traveling their way. Under the full moon they will be trying to relocate the rest of the pride, and perhaps gain access to a free meal, though perfectly capable of hunting on their own.
In the distance their calls are answered by another coalition, their rivals to the North.
The Xhirombe pride are relaxing out on a rocky outcrop. The adult lionesses are grooming one another and strengthening their fierce bonds in the process. In the distance a zebra stallion can be heard, another a little further away in response. The cubs are playing in anticipation of a night of hunting. One of the older lionesses gets up, stretches out against a rough-barked Knobthorn Acacia and sinks her claws right into them. The sound of her lethal claws lacerating the tree awakens the mood to move within the rest of the pride. As they start moving through the short grass you can hardly hear a sound, their soft pads perfectly adapted for silent walk. Their aim is set straight towards where the calls of the zebra stallion emanated from.
Further east towards the base of the Lebombo Mountains is a large male leopard thats ascended to the top of a Marula Tree. From this elevated view he can not only see potential prey, but also take note of any other “players of the night”. To his right he can hear the four Southern males calling loudly. This will influence his movement somewhat, and make him very alert of their presence and position. Lions are a large threat for any leopard, especially under the cover of darkness. He has spotted a small herd of impala towards an open clearing. It is not completely dark yet and he will make his move as soon as the black of night devours his mottle coat.
Leopards are silent stalkers of the night, their presence only betrayed when they themselves reveal their position. They are masterfully skilled at vanishing into the undergrowth or tall grasses.
As night truly covers the landscape like a blanket, a lapping sound be heard, very feint in nature. In preparation for the evening’s activities, a young leopardess is drinking from a small rain-filled crevice on a rocky outcrop. Her eyes are wide open and alert as she stays on edge for any other potential predators in the area, never letting her guard drop. She finishes and moves away and out of sight.
She leaves nothing but a memory.
The four Southern males are on the move, looking and listening for any signs of the rest of the pride. The pride are closing in on the unsuspecting zebra, moving ever closer. The cubs are hungry and have not eaten well in the last two days. A successful kill is of significant importance.
Will either of them encounter the aggressive Northern males or members of their pride?
The large territorial male leopard is also on the move. The darkness has settled in and favour is on his side. Will the moonlight foil his intentions, or will his experience gain him a meal?
The stage is now set.
The players have taken their positions.
Under the cover of darkness they will engage.
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Marlon du Toit