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Umlani Blog- Returns Guests And Leopard Glory

Posted on Sat June 5, 2021.

As world travel slowly starts to open up and we are beginning to see an increase in guests coming to the camp, we welcomed back some of our faithful return guests.

After the crazy times we have been experiencing it seemed to make their visits just that much better. Now with these return guests comes a knowledge of the different animals that inhabit our traversing area, and with this comes requests. but these guests are my kinda guests as their requests were to see as many leopards as possible.

So grab a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine and take a look at some of the incredible sightings we had.

Now I am always up for a good leopard challenge, so we set off on our first afternoon safari. It was a warm afternoon after we had had a few cold days before. The bush felt fresh and clean and I couldn't help but feel we were going to find leopard. I asked my tracker Lucky which leopard he thought we should try for and without hesitation he said Marula jr, I was skeptical as she is generally a very shy, hard to find leopard. But I went with his choice and we headed off down our entrance road towards the usual haunts of the elusive Marula jr. On our way we came across a large elephant herd (and a very relaxed Spotted Thick-knee). We sat with them for a short while before continuing our leopard search.

Shortly after leaving the elephant herd we came across very fresh tracks of a young female leopard...it was Marula jrs tracks and they were on top of all the vehicle tracks from that day. As we were looking at the tracks we heard the elephants begin trumpeting, our immediate thought was that maybe they they came across the leopard so we turned around and headed back towards the elephants. We rounded a bend in the road and all of us on the vehicle seemed to see it at the same time....rosettes in the grass...a leopard! But not Marula jr. It was the big Tamboti male. A male who I hadn't seen for months and the last time I had seen him he was in very poor condition.

The previous time that I saw the Tamboti male a few months ago. Note the sunken temples and exposed hip bones. Very obvious that he was in poor condition. 

Now however his condition had improved and he was looking as good as ever. He seemed to be on the scent of something and was moving around back and forth almost in circles with his nose to the ground, every now and then he would stop and sniff the air, we thought perhaps Marula jr was in the area and he was looking for her. At one point the large male leopard walked right into the middle of the elephant herd, he sat meters away from a few of young elephants who would repeatedly rush at him, it was only when one of the larger cows had had enough of his presence that he moved off.

We decided to leave him be after spending a good long time with this incredible big cat and the kind of start to a leopard challenge that couldn't have been scripted better.

The next morning we decided to head to the far eastern reaches of our traverse, in search of Thumbela female and her cub. The guests had seen Thumbela as a young leopard many years ago and were keen to see her with her current cub. The first part of our drive yielded very little results as we couldn't even find a track for her or the cub. We were just about to give up hope when the radio came to life. One of the other guides had found Thumbela, being relatively close to where she was found we responded and made our way in the direction of the leopard. As we neared the area the guide in the sighting informed us that the cub had now joined the sighting and as we approached we could see the 2 leopards playing with each other. Unfortunately the thick riverine bush didn't allow for many photographic opportunities but the sight itself was incredible to witness. Eventually the leopards made their way out of the thickets and into the open heading towards one of the waterholes. So we skipped ahead of them and waited at the waters edge in the hope that the leopards would come have a drink. Our prediction was half right when Thumbela came and quenched her thirst right at the spot that we had been waiting for her, her cub decided laying in the long grass was a better option.

We got to see how the eye of the cub that seemed so badly injured has almost healed up 100%, apart from being slightly smaller and a bit discolored the eye still seems to be fine. Once Thumbela finished drinking her and the cub set off and we decided after spending such quality time with the leopards that we would leave them to go about their business. 

The previous two sightings were only some of our leopard highlights. We saw 5 different individual leopards and had 6 actual leopard sightings, it felt like some sort of a record and the guests were overflowing with happiness after being so lucky. Here are a few more images of some of the other leopards we saw as well as from a few of the other sightings that we had.

Just when we thought our leopard viewing couldn't get any better, our next set of return guests arrived, and looking to beat the previous weeks leopard record. Thanks to social media they were all too aware of the leopard sightings we had and were chomping at the bit to rival it.

Our first few drives were rather quiet on the leopard front, one particular afternoon we were merely driving around well within the territory of Marula jr when I spotted the silhouetted outline of a leopard on a nearby termite mound. It was her, but true to her nature she did not stick around very long and after snapping a few pictures of her she disappeared into a raisin-bush thicket and we could not find her again.

As we were leaving the Marula jr sighting, we received word that Nweti female had been found with an impala kill that she had hoisted into a tree. So due to Marula jr not giving us the greatest sighting we decided to head off to see if Nweti would put on a better show for us. She did not disappoint. When we arrived in the sighting she was up in the tree feeding on the impala carcass and once she was done proceeded to descend the tree and disappear into the darkness. 

The following day the female leopard known as Cleo was found. At first the sighting wasn't very good as she was lying in some long grass in a small drainage line. Fortunately we got to spend some good time with her as as the sun dipped beneath the horizon Cleo woke from her slumber and made a half hearted attempt at stalking a scrub hare, which gave her the slip but it allowed us to get some nice photos of this seldom seen leopard. Up until now Cleo is rarely viewed by us here at Umlani, as the majority of her territory is in the Klaserie Game Reserve but as she gets on in age she will begin to lead a more nomadic lifestyle and venture further away from her usual territory which could mean more sightings of her in the coming months. 

Nweti graced us with her presence again one day, although she did make it difficult for us to get good visuals of her we decided to be patient and wait for photographic opportunities to present themselves. She had killed a steenbok and put it up into a nearby Marula tree so we were confident that patience would pay off for us eventually and we waited...and waited....in the morning we even had our coffee in the sighting...in the evening we had our sundowners in the sighting, and the waiting and patience carried on for literal hours. 

As darkness fell, our long wait paid off as Nweti decided to make a move and went up the tree, as luck would have it though whilst trying to get into position to see her ascend the tree we missed it completely. Luckily all Nweti did was reposition the kill then came down the tree again and lay out in the open allowing us to get incredible photos of her.

On top of the list of leopards that these guests wanted to see was Nyeleti and Xigodo. Nyeleti had been pregnant with Xigodo the last time they were here and were therefore very keen to see them on this trip. One night that wish became a reality when Xigodo had been found, as we entered the sighting Nyeleti joined Xigodo. She had made a kill up north and had come back to fetch her son. We followed the two leopards as they headed back up in the direction that Nyeleti had just come from. Xigodo seemed to be in a very playful mood and was constantly stalking and rushing up to his mom. On one of these energetic bursts Xigodo flushed out a scrub hare which he managed to catch...and not quite kill. In his inexperience as a youngster the poor scrub hare was left alive while the young leopard toyed with it before starting to feed on it. Although it was hard to watch and hear it is all part of his learning curve as a youngster approaching independence.

By the end of their stay the guests had also seen 5 different leopards and had 9 leopards sightings. But it wasn't all about the leopards. We also had a multitude of sightings from tree squirrels to elephants as well as an incredible lion sighting, on their very last morning drive.

That is all for this blog, hopefully we see you soon here at camp to create your own safari memories. Until next time, we look forward to seeing what the bush has in store for us as we head into winter...the dry season.

Photographed & Written By: Greg McCall-Peat