22nd October 2010
We end our afternoon drive with a sundowner. A full moon rises as the red sun quickly drops behind the horizon.
We are briefed on our night drive. The focus is on finding night-active animals. Animals that are active during the day would be blinded by the searchlight, and we are not here to engineer a kill.
Philemon informs us that our chances of seeing a leopard are about 50:50. Sometimes as many as 5 leopards have been spotted in 1 night, at other times safaris have come back without a sighting 5 nights in a row.
And it looks like we will join the unlucky photo hunters. All signs of life seem to have disappeared as soon as the sun went down.
The searchlight goes from left to right, left to right, and hits only empty spaces. Where is everybody?
Looks like the highlight will be the group of impalas that are illuminated in passing.
I am tired of staring into space when someone says that there is a leopard ahead. We are by now near the river edge. I thought leopards live on trees?
But no, in the distance a leopard is moving in slow motion and completely silently across the horizon. It does not even seem to register us.
Soon it is gone. Other vehicles join in the search, but the place where the leopard had likely gone to drink in inaccessible to vehicles.
And so we wait... And wait.
We are about to turn back as we still have a long drive ahead, when the leopard reappears with a young buku calf in his mouth. No wonder he paid no attention to us earlier. He was getting his dinner ready!
The leopard dashes across the sandy plain and into some undergrowth, followed by the searchlight of at least four searchlights.
Philemon points out that the calf is still alive. The leopard is hoping to catch its mother, but there is no sign of her. The calf struggles on valiantly.
I do not see what happens next, but when we have driven around the bend, we see the final act of tonight's drama. An older leopard sits in the tree with the buku. It looks like he has stolen it from his younger rival.
I wonder what would have happened if we hadn't turned up. I don't think we engineered the kill, but I wonder whether the young leopard would have kept his dinner if he had not been distracted by all the vehicles.
Yes, I feel sorry for the buku, especially as it was not killed instantly, but also for the leopard who worked so hard, but was left with nothing...
The other night animals we see are white-tailed mongoose and a lonely hyena. Apparently they hunt alone in this national park, an example of animal behaviour being determined by the particlar environment...
In our absence, the monkeys got into the truck again and smashed some eggs, so I guess it's 1:0 for them today.
Generally, the wildlife camp has now lost its terror. I now expect animal encounters. The latest animal I have met in the bathroom is a big frog.