Todays post is about one of those sightings that just gets your blood pumping and your adrenalin rushing as though it is your first time in the bush. Sometimes timing and circumstance all come together and surprise you in the best way possible.
As we came around the corner onto a gravel road in Kruger, quite near to Afsaal picnic spot, we got a little thrill of excitement at the number of vultures we saw sitting in a tree not far off the road. There were vultures overhead as well, and as we drew nearer, we could see there were vultures on the ground as well. Our first thought was that there must be a kill nearby. It did seem strange to us though, that there was a female impala standing nervously near the vultures. She was very distressed and agitated and kept looking around with wild eyes.
We stopped the car and had a good scan, but we couldn't find any predators, nor the reason for her distress. Then she turned and charged the vultures, her tawny head lowered in determination. As one, they beat their wings and lifted slightly off the ground with the difficulty associated with such a huge bird becoming airborne. Then they landed again, and fussed about, pecking one another and staring at a bush a few meters away.
The female impala ran to the bush, and put her face gently toward it, before running off into a thicket of trees. Nothing happened. The vultures crept ominously forward. She charged them again, panicked. They backed off slightly and resumed their watch. More and more vultures were arriving by the minute, and the ewe was becoming further agitated. She ran to the bush again, and off towards the thicket as though willing something to follow her. It was all beginning to make sense. The impala had obviously given birth recently, and her lamb was lying beside the bush. She was panicking and the vultures were moving ever closer to their free meal.
We sat there, hoping the lamb would get up and follow the mother as she tried in vain to coax him to stand. All these vultures were sure to attract a predator at some stage, if they didn't finish the baby off first. No sooner had we spoken that thought aloud, that we looked up to see the camouflaged face of a leopard peering out from behind a bush on the opposite side of the road. He had obviously been drawn to the area, inquisitive about the commotion.
He began to move ever so slowly out from behind the bush. We sat perfectly still, eager to see a kill, and yet sad for the young life and the brave impala who had so valiantly defended her lamb. The leopard moved with perfect precision, not a sound as his paws delicately brushed the earth, each foot placed masterfully in front of the last.
The adult impala had not seen the leopard, and he was drawing dangerously close. However her instincts, so closely linked to her survival, kicked in and she turned to see him just as he began to run toward her. She gave up then, realizing a lost cause, and knowing there would be other lambs. She turned and ran, and the leopard changed course, ran to the bush and picked up the baby impala, killing him with one violent shake of his neck.
Leopard and impala moved slowly through the bushes, the vultures having given up. Then he hoisted the lamb, held his head high and made a dash for it, across the road and away, before he lost his prize to a bigger opponent.
We sat there, shaking from the adrenalin, on an absolute high and an absolute low. It was something most wildlife enthusiasts dream about seeing, yet it leaves one sad. In the end it's just survival, in it's basic form. It was a good choice of route, where perfect timing a heavy dose of luck came together to make magic.