I have been travelling to the great wilderness areas that Africa has to offer for almost 40 years now and have been treated to some spectacular and memorable wildlife sightings along the way.
Someone asked me the other day – What has been your most memorable sighting? I mulled over the question, hesitated with my answer for a couple of minutes , and replied that there was not one individual sighting that stands out and picking just one would be a great injustice.
I have seen several kills, which is often a “yardstick“ for many wildlife enthusiasts, involving Cheetah, Lion, Wild Dog, Leopard and Hyena. In fact, just 2 days prior to the sighting that shall be unraveled below, we witnessed a pair of jackals bringing down a Thompsons Gazelle. This all happened whilst it was trying to protect its fawn from aerial attacks by Ground Hornbills.
All have been touched me emotionally and seeing my first ever polar bear on the ice packs of the Arctic Circle, definitely brought a tear to my eye.
But why was this particular occurrence so different? Well, one of the main reasons is that there were at least 5 unique displays of unusual animal behaviour and interaction – each one in its own right worthy of being labeled a memorable sighting.
To me it was more personal. You see the leading man in this performance of wildlife theatre was performed by a male leopard that I have seen on several occasions during the last few years of our migration safaris. In fact during last years safaris we spotted him almost daily in an area near the Mugoro and Kaburu crossing points situated North of Mara Serena in the Mara Conservancy.
Even though many leopards in the region can be fairly skittish as they are often harassed by some unscrupulous safari operators he is a truly magnificent animal and is super chilled around vehicles.
When I arrived in the Mara for the start of this year’s Migration Safaris, I immediately asked about his whereabouts and was saddened to hear that he had been badly injured in a fight with hyenas. The authorities had been able to treat him but were not too optimistic about his chances of survival. He had not been spotted for a couple of week, so we all feared the worst.
This, coupled with the news that my beloved Scarface had also crossed to the other side of the river, meant that my portfolio images taken from the Migration season were going to be short of my 2 favourite cats
How wrong could I have been.
Roll onto the 18th of August 2015
SCENE 1 – The Crossing
There were reports of a mass of Zebra that were building up on the banks of the Mara River at Mugoro crossing point – only 5 minutes from the camp we were situated in.
We arrived to the site of a couple of thousand Zebra waiting for their opportunity to cross. There hesitation was caused by many massive crocs that were lining up in the water, strategically positioned on the anticipated path the Zebra would use.
The natural urge of the Zebra got the better of them and they suddenly bundled into the water and started to cross the Mara River.
The crocs had a field day.
The crossing lasted over an hour and our group witnessing over 5 croc predations. Not everyone wants to witness croc kills, but the shear speed that is generated by a 6-7 meter croc, launching itself out of the water to grab hold of its prey, is spectacular and amazing.
The last of the zebra crossed the river and the curtains fell on scene one, but there was more to come.
SCENE 2 – The main protagonist
Once the melee had died down, and our guests were quickly scanning through the images they had been able to capture, Jimmy (one of our Wild Eye guides) who is undoubtedly one of the best animal spotters I have ever come across, calmly says to me: “ Jono, there is your boy “ pointing to the bushes on the other side of the river.
I had no idea what he was talking about.
I looked in the direction he was pointing and there he was, the male leopard that had been injured.
He was still alive!
Through my binos I could see the extent of his injury, which was causing him to limp badly and clearly was restricting his abilities to hunt.
His physical condition was not great and he had lost much of his stature.
SCENE 3 – The Kill
All of a sudden a lone Zebra mare and her foal suddenly approached the river and began to cross back to where they had come from.
The crocs natural instinct to kill kicked in and they quickly swam across to the Zebras and made their attack.
This time it all happened below the surface so we couldn’t really see what was happening.
She managed to break away from the jaws of the crocodile, but not before it had done significant damage to her left front leg.
She stumbled out of the river, attempted to clamber up on the rocks but collapsed in between the boulders.
The waiting Leopard’s patience had paid off; he now had the ideal opportunity to feed. He quickly moved in, clamped his jaws onto the throat of the Zebra and made the kill.
The amazing thing is that this was the first leopard sighting that one of guests had ever experienced – and she gets to see it kill.
SCENE 4 – Survival
Having finally seized its prey, the leopard wasted no time in feeding wearing of lurking hyena and other predators that may be nearby and capable of stealing his kill. With the injuries that he has, there is no way he would be able to fight off unwanted bystanders.
Whilst I was trying to get some images, from the corner of my eye I could see massive croc swimming towards the dead zebra that was 10 meters away from the waters edge.
He launched his massive frame from the water and approached the leopard feeding on the carcass.
I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing.
A crocodile trying to take away the kill from the leopard. Why would he feel the need to exert this energy when him and his congregation had killed so many animals in the previous couple of hours?
Perhaps it was due to the competition of another predator feeding?
The croc couldn’t get a hold of the dead Zebra.
The stand off lasted all of 30 mins until the Crocodile lost interest and slid down the bank, back towards the water.
Once the leopard had fed and realised that the croc presented no further danger he limped down towards the water to drink.
Still surrounded by crocs.
These pictures show that the animal is pretty emaciated and not in good shape, but Gerry has seen him making 2 separate kills this week and happy to report that he is moving far better.
So very happy to learn that he is on the mend to provide me and our Wild Eye guests with many great photographic opportunities
It was undoubtedly the most memorable wildlife sighting I have ever had the privilege of witnessing and, although their was a fair amount of bloodshed, the happier ending triumphs the inevitable deaths that were involved.
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