One of the most desirable sightings for any wildlife lover is on regular offer at luxury lodge in Greater Kruger area
If the old saying, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ is true, imagine what benefits the privilege of seeing a leopard a day can do to the human psyche. Rare as it is, we encountered a variety of these rosetted beauties during a stay at Monwana Game Lodge, situated in the private 14,000ha Thornybush Private Game Reserve. Having first set foot on the continent some time ago, the lodge’s founders felt a kinship so strong they rooted themselves in this unspoiled part of the Greater Kruger. “We fell in love with Africa over 20 years ago when we first invested in Monwana Game Lodge. Little did we know that our love affair would evolve into something much, much deeper over the decades to follow. This place is Africa personified. It’s an extension of the earth. It’s a sensory journey.” The reimagined lodge is an architectural feat, with voluminous spaces that further enhance the feeling of having an elevated experience.
In the right place
While we’re savouring lunch overlooking the waterhole in front of the lodge, a large herd of elephants amble over to quench their thirst. The hilarity of baby elephants not knowing how to use their trunks never gets old. In this case, the tiny youngster is giving itself a splash down instead of having a drink. The fascination of sitting in such close proximity to these large pachyderms is a real treat. As we depart on our first game drive, field guide Daniel and tracker Fanoti work in perfect harmony to find the best sightings for their guests. Growing up in and around the bush-savvy town of Hoedspruit, Daniel’s formative years pointed him in the right direction – becoming a field guide.
“I went to a classic bush school, so at break times and after school, my friends and I would head out, build forts, look under rocks and catch anything worthwhile and exciting,” Daniel tells me during a morning coffee stop in the bush. “When I matriculated, I was unsure of what to study and decided to head back to the bush and get an in-depth insight into it all. The knowledge I gained as a kid stood me in good stead when studying the field guide syllabus. Onwards and upwards I went, guiding at various lodges in the Waterberg and Sabi Sand; I was spoiled at a young age.”
Daniel’s favourite bush activity is to spend time out in the wild with the animals, learning the ‘why’ rather than the facts. Getting to grips with their behaviour cultivates a deeper insight into their daily lifestyle, which comes to the fore when parked alongside a young elephant. The tyke is seemingly calm, although his eyes tell a different story. “I find it so important for my guests and anyone I take out on safari to really open their eyes and experience what I do,” Daniel says quietly. “Especially my understanding of it. It’s not just an animal, it’s a wild creature, with a purpose and it most certainly comes with a deeper feeling and meaning. It’s so incredibly special. My favourite has to be a lioness. They are thinkers, and they really do cooperate in terms of sightings. However, when successful, they stand their ground, and their true wild nature takes over for the feed or protecting their cubs.”
Moms and tots
As we arrive in an almost impenetrable area next to a dry riverbed, a smell of decay fills the air. A lifeless impala is safely tucked away in the shade of a tree. “Clever leopard, stashing it out of the sun,” Daniel quips dryly. “Whoever made the kill must be in the block,” he says to Fanoti. He drives around and discovers the cat, a female, hiding in the vegetation. She appears skittish and suddenly makes a dash for it. We follow her and find her glaring at us through the tree branches. She has made her way to her prized meal and starts feeding immediately. Having had her fill, she disappears, and suddenly another leopard appears, much smaller in size. This must be her cub! He seems a bit uncertain as he approaches the carcass. Mom has hopefully schooled him on the fine art of dining as he hooks his claw into the impala in an attempt to move it in order to feed better.
Across the drainage line is a leopard with golden eyes, concealed in the yellow grass. Daniel points to what we assume is the outline of something hidden in plain sight. The leopard suddenly sits up and gently starts calling. Her raspy vocalisation can only mean one thing – she is calling a different cub. Ecstatic, we are all eyes and ears as to what is going to happen next. From behind the tall reeds, a tiny shape appears. It’s tiny! Seemingly unsteady on its feet, it crawls over to its mother, who immediately wants to start the grooming process, but the little cub has other ideas – it has found its sibling and together they play until they are exhausted, falling asleep next to the safe confines of mom.