Finding the Leopard

Since the day of our arrival staff members have been telling us about a leopard that visits the camp. I think there wasn't a day that I did not think about this leopard during my stay. Why? Imagine walking back to your tent for about five minutes; no lights except for the moon and stars, the silence of the African bush and on both sides of the path dark bushes from which two shiny orange eyes can appear.

As a result I was cautious or excited (most of the times both) during the nightly walks back to my tent. Nevertheless we have, obviously, been trying to spot this, according to the stories, huge male leopard. Who wouldn't, right? We tried, predominately, to search for his tracks, but without success. Elusive as these cats are we had to think of a different strategy if we were ever to see this magnificent creature.

2 months later something really interesting happened which might give us the chance to see it. Henk Bronkhorst, one of the owners of the camp, told us that he could get his hands on a big piece of buffalo paw as bait from a local professional hunter. Immediately excited we went with him to a town nearby and collected the at least 40 kg weighing piece of buffalo. However, he did not have time to drop us of at the camp, so this meant that we had to take a cab plus hitch hiking back to the camp (at least 50 km) with a huge piece of meat. Fortunately, he did wrap it in plastic backs and a blanket before he left us with out tasks.

The cabs in rural South Africa are different than in the urban regions; they drive in minibuses which  normally do not start to drive until it is packed full with people. Imagine sitting in such a taxi with a 40 kg piece of buffalo meat. Luckily it did not stink because it was fresh meat. After 20 km we exited the cab, took the meat on one of our shoulders and started walking, hoping for a ride. That day it was hot and it took us forever to finally reach the entrance of camp with the aid of a person in a bakkie. However, that still meant a 20 minute walk with a small human on your shoulder with 40 degrees. Nevertheless, we made it and started to prepare ourselves to walk into the bush and hang the buffalo paw in a tree. With a piece of strong rope, 2 camera traps, a saw, shovel and the buffalo we entered the bush. After 15 minutes we found the perfect tree hanging over a dried river bed. The rope we attached to the paw, threw the rope over a strong branch, pulled the paw up, attached the rope on the ground, placed the camera traps, cleared the ground, done! Exciting stuff!

The next 3 days we went back. Every time we armed ourselves with sticks and stones in the case of... But it did not visit. The 4th day we decided to change the location from 20 minutes from our tents to 30 seconds to our tents. Smart? Not really, but who cares. Again we set up the camera traps and attached the meat to a bush on the ground. During these days my mother visited me in the camp and every night we walked her back to the tent, armed to the teeth. On the 7th day Sander and I had just brought my mother and a friend off at the tent after which we heard something big moving in the bushes. All my scenes were immediately sharpened by adrenaline. A few days before, however, our torch batteries had run dry and we were directing our phone flashlight on the bushes. We could not see anything. On that moment Sander decided to throw a big stone into the bush and we heard the big creature running away. The next morning we went extra early to the camera traps and found beautiful pictures of a, indeed, huge and magnificent leopard 10 minutes after we dropped my mother off at her tent. Around 9 Sander decided to track the leopard together with a staff member. They found the piece of meat a little bit further next to a tree, the leopard was nowhere to be seen. Crazy as they are they took the buffalo back to the bush and attached it again. In the afternoon we went back to the camera and found that the meat was gone. Luckily the perpetrator is caught forever on camera =).