After my brief preoccupation with the colour red, and all things bright and beautiful, I became immersed in the colour blue. A deep dark blue. I also hurt my back on a stubborn horse. This morning I woke up and decided there was quite enough of that, and today my inner child was needing attention. It was a beautiful clear sunny winters day. We drove into the reserve. The impala rams have been behaving like idiots for the past few days. Furiously chasing each other around the place - making that sound like tearing up cardboard, and that weird grunting rutting bark. They have been clashing heads and acting like they own the place - all in an effort to impress the females and gather the biggest harem of all. The females largely carry on grazing and moving from sun to shade and back again - occasionally taking off with a start if one of the clashes gets too close. They are so vulnerable to super predators when they are like this as they are completely distracted with their own importance, and the task at hand. Plus they are making these weird noises that carry for miles. Ironically the grunting rutting noise even sounds remotely like a leopard.
So there was an air of 'I told you so' when we came across a strong drag mark crossing the sand track this morning. It was pointed out to me how we could see the marks in the sand where the impala horns had bounced along, although the weight of the body had swept away the leopard tracks in all but a very few places. We climbed down from the vehicle to follow the drag mark on foot, into the mopane forest. Here and there we lost the track as it went through a gully, or grassy area, but quickly picked it up again on the other side. This leopard was a mighty strong animal. It dragged the heavy prey item between the trees, and into the long grass at the base of the koppies, without even stopping to eat. There was no trace of grassy stomach contents or blood, only the smooth drag mark, and the marks made by the horns alongside. We went deeper into the forest, ducking under thorn branches, and stepping over rocks and logs. Here in a flattened grassy glade we found the tail of the impala. Around the corner, hidden away in a patch of long grass, the carcass of the lost ram.
The leopard had not had much time for feeding, so we guessed we were being watched - although it was impossible to see from where. One little agitated bird call might have been a clue. Otherwise the blue sky and bright sunlight masked all secrets. We retraced our steps, and went home to fetch the camera trap. Returning quickly we tied the impala ram to the nearest tree, so that the leopard would not drag it away. And we set up our antiquated camera trap overlooking the scene. With luck, when the leopard returns, he will trigger the infra red sensor and we will be able to record his presence in digital images.
Leopards are masters of camouflage, and it is said you only see them when they decide to show themselves. You can hardly ever take them by surprise. Perhaps he was watching us from the long grass.