Wonderful Big Cat encounters await those who make it to Katavi
Uganda & Rwanda Expert
29 Jan 2018
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A 9am radio call alerted us to a brief African leopard sighting while we were midway through a guided game walk that had started at our wonderful fly camp on the edge of the Katavi Plains.
As Leopard are notoriously elusive, we jumped at the chance to seek one. Less than a 1km drive later, a ranger spotted a motionless impala hanging from a thick branch of a tree to our right. It's insides had been partly removed - leopards often do this in order to make the prey corpse lighter and therefore, easier to carry up the tree, out of reach of the ever present Spotted hyenas. But where was our leopard? With such a tantalising meal, it surely had to be near.....
We searched using binoculars and drove slowly around the tree. No sign. Could the leopard be in the thick undergrowth around the base of the tree? We switched off the engine and waited in silence. The leopard had to be very near, but it had to think that we had either gone or accept that we posed no threat. We waited. One of the rangers spotted it amongst the undergrowth. Sure enough, the leopard was there hiding. An hour passed - still very little movement. The furtive cat then only retreated deeper into the undergrowth.
We elected to drive on -. perhaps we were preventing the leopard from climbing back up the tree. So we planned to return later on. In the meantime, we drove a further 1km to an area where there was a Buffalo kill, made by a pride of six lions, which had been seen by some of the staff while they were setting up the fly camp. The lions and the dead buffalo were still there: surprisingly, they had not yet eaten much of their prize. Interestingly, one of the lionesses was being particularly bothered by the flies, all around her eyes. To better the situation, she lazily got up and slowly walked past us and climbed a small and surprisingly flimsy tree to shade herself against the flies. There are only a few areas in Africa where this tree-climbing behaviour is recorded - I was quite surprised to observe it in Katavi National Park.
Later, we drove back to where the leopard was to see if it had now climbed up the tree to its kill. Sure enough, it had. But as we approached, we could see it contemplating doing a disappearing act again. So we kept our distance and watched. It was fascinating watching the leopard keeping an eye firmly on us as we were observing it.
While on our drive back to the Chada Katavi, elated from our leopard and lion sightings, there was a shout from the the back of the vehicle - 'Leopard!!'. A guide had spotted on close up, in a Sausage tree just to the right of us. In all my years of game driving, this was definitely my closet ever leopard sighting.
Just as was the case with our previous leopard, this cat appeared to be stalking us. Were we a predator, were we a threat? It was another eyeball to eyeball stakeout in process. This leopard seemed so perplexed by us that it slowly peered below a thick branch to get a view of us from a different angle, hoping that we wouldn't notice. It is an extraordinary experience, sharing this moment with such a sleek and accomplished predator. Another African experience I'll never forget.