Stalking the Elusive Leopard

At the end of my interview with Donovan and Leanne at Kitara Camp, I promised you an update on whether we finally found our leopard, so here it comes.

We were full of expectations as we set off in the direction of Kruger Park shortly before the New Year. As anyone will tell you, Kruger Park is THE place to see leopards. I’m not sure why this is true. And technically, we weren’t actually going to Kruger Park. Kitara Camp is in Klaserie Nature Reserve, which is a private game reserve next to Timbavati and Kruger Park. Kruger Park, of course, is huge. In fact, it’s the same size as all of Israel. But even Klaserie is impressive in size at 60,000 hectares, which tells me absolutely nothing because I’ve never mastered the art of area measurements, but it’s similar in size to Madikwe Game Reserve, which I know is huge because we’ve driven through it. Or rather through parts of it.

The cool thing about Klaserie Game Reserve is that nothing is fenced in. It just sits there adjacent to Kruger Park (which also isn’t fenced in) and so every living thing wandering around Kruger Park is perfectly at leisure to saunter on over to Klaserie. Somehow this makes viewing the animals extra special. Only when you know there is no fence do you truly appreciate the enormity of what you get to see. In Madikwe, we used to drive along the fence to see if we could find a pack of wild dogs (who like to hunt their prey for miles and miles and often end up cornering it at the fence). I don’t know about you, but that man-made fence right there, and the implication that nothing keeps the game reserve managers from stocking all the animals they want, definitely put a tamper on my enthusiasm.

Well, in Klaserie Game Reserve everything you see there is truly wild. Not that it makes a difference for leopards whether there is a fence or not. They can climb anything and no fence will keep them in. Which is another reason why leopards are so extra special and by far the hardest of the Big Five to spot.

By day two and our third game drive (you typically get one morning – EARLY morning – and evening game drive for each night you stay), we had seen three of the Big Five. One fleeting rhino, which I didn’t bother to take a picture of, many elephants, and lots and lots of buffaloes (which you’ll remember we spent considerable time in pursuit of a year ago).

elephant near the water in Klaserie game reserve

buffalos standing at water hole
This reminds me of those unsmiling family portraits of the olden days

We also spotted the usual suspects – plenty of antelopes, zebras, giraffes, and birds…

Louries in Klaserie game reserve
Grey Louries posing for us
running impala at Klaserie game reserve
Impalas on the run (yes I know, not the pinnacle of skillful photography but I love this pic)
yellow hornbill in Klaserie game reserve
A pair of hornbills
zebras near Kithara camp
More family portraits – almost as if WE were the attraction the animals were staring at
giraffe chewing on a bone in Klaserie game reserve
Giraffe chewing on… a bone! It’s not often you get to see that
wildebeest in Klaserie game reserve in South Africa
Wildebeest family – I really have to turn some of these into sepia and compare them to my ancestors!

…took our own family portrait…

safari at kitara camp in the Klaserie game reserve
Well, almost family

…and had some other cool sightings:

kitara camp in Klaserie game reserve


But WHERE was the leopard? We were bouncing along a dried riverbed that evening, happily discussing the incredible buffalo water- and mud bath we had just witnessed, when the conversation, inevitably, veered once again to the leopard. “Well, it could be right there behind a tree and we’d never know it,” was Noisette’s analysis.

I swear it was right at that moment that we heard a rustling on our right, and one of the kids shouted “something’s there!” We looked, but all we could see was a blur disappearing fast into the dense brush.This is where it comes in handy to have a guide. First, to tell you where to look, and second, to tell you what it is you are seeing (or not really seeing, in my case). Just go and try for yourself:

leopard in Klaserie game reserve
Would you have looked twice at the spot under that tree?

I don’t blame you if you didn’t see a thing. But it’s there, slightly to the left of the middle of the picture. And yes, it’s a leopard. A she-leopard, so we’re informed, though how this can possibly be gathered from such scant evidence is beyond me. Then again, much of what these trackers and game drivers know and see is incomprehensible. Noisette was the one with the 400-lens that afternoon, so he managed to get a better record of our brief leopard fame. Sorry folks, that’s the best we could do!

leopard in Klaserie game reserve
Darkness falls quickly in Africa, so what looks like a perfectly fine late  afternoon shotabove needed a powerful flash just moments later

Still, we’re absolutely elated we got to see this rarest of predators. Or if not rare, extremely skilled at staying hidden. Interestingly, we didn’t see any lions at all this time around, when before, in Madikwe, they could easily be spotted just lying by the road, full-bellied and lazy and without a care in the world.

But that’s just what’s beautiful every single time you go into the bush. You never know what you’re going to see, and there is always something new to learn.

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