Those of you who know me know that I am not the most sociable of creatures. I tend to shy away from large crowds or parties. I prefer small groups of friends I know well. Better still, I prefer to just be alone – in the mountains or somewhere unconfined and peaceful.
I guess this would explain my affinity for leopards. They too are fairly aloof animals who appear more than happy on their own.
On this last trip, we met some great, like-minded folk – people who just love the bush, bird fanatics and people (like us) who just get high on all that big sky, red-sand-soul-food.
You generally get chatting to people in the camp swimming pool…where, hippo-like, we all bob about in fairly close proximity (the pools are small), cooling off our sun-baked bodies. We too (in a uniquely human way), humph, flick our ears and flare our nostrils at one another…sharing stories of sightings and experiences of the mornings and evenings. It is a great way to find out where the bat-eared fox dens are, where a territorial male leopard likes to hang out, or where there is a barn owl nest.
That sort of thing.
One can travel for fairly long distances in the park and not see a soul (a bonus in my book!), but there are sometimes advantages to meeting up with some people along the road, particularly when they look as though they know what they are doing (somehow you can just tell them apart from the touristy types who just want to see ‘ze lions and cheetahs’).
We met one such fellow on this trip…
On our drive from the Nossob side to the Mata side (to get to our next camp, Kalahari Tented), we were cruising along and I suddenly spotted something in a tree. I knew it was a leopard and shrieked at Warren to stop and reverse. I then looked back and saw a dusty red Golf approaching….so I suggested to Warren and Tim that we just stop and pretend to be rooting around in bags, so that said Golf would continue on his merry way and we could watch our leopard on our own.
Shockingly selfish, I know.
Told you I was unsociable. Yet, there is nothing worse, in my view, for these poor creatures than having five or more cars right ontop of them, sometimes with their engines running!
Turns out, Mr Golf had also ‘spotted’ our leopard….and was staying put, long camera lens at the ready. Dammit.
We reversed slowly to get a better view and as we passed him, rolled down our window and had a bit of a chat. I could see he had a bunch of photos in a ‘homemade’ booklet on his lap and was flicking through it. He had been tipped off about this particular female, so had known where to look. We were incredibly lucky to have seen her, he said!
We reversed a little more and sat for ages to watch her. She was glorious. Intense, passive, extraordinary! We then moved the vehicle a little to get to a better vantage point. Again, we passed Mr Golf and this time I asked whether he was a researcher.
Turns out he is an astronomer at UCT, but in his spare time, has been identifying leopards, taking photos and accumulating data on them in the reserve. This has never been done before, so the figure on the park brochures of ‘150 leopard’ is something of a thumb suck! Astounding stuff.
I have been in touch with Matthew since our return, and he has just updated the guide with new photos and data.
Click here to get to the guide.
Thanks to Matthew Schurch (friendly star gazing/leopard spotting chap), we now know that ‘our’ female in a tree is called ‘Tsamma’ (a lovely name after the sought after tsamma melons seen lying about in the park). It is not known whether she is a mother, but Matthew subsequently saw her cosy-ing up with a male (called Barolong) in the area, so there could be a pair of big-eyed mini-Tsammas in the offing in a few months!
Is she not completely beautiful?
The following is an extract from Matthew’s guide. I urge you to print it out and take it with you if you go to the park. Spread the word, and let’s get this out there. The conservation benefits for these elusive and glorious creatures could potentially be huge.
‘This guide is to aid in the identification of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park leopards both whilst in the field and back at home on the computer. It has been compiled from the sightings reported in the SANParks online forum and by the authors.
Careful attention has been made to ensure that no duplicate leopards are presented through the thorough comparison of the spot patterns of all the leopards. A combination of facial markings (spots, and whisker patterns) and side rosettes have been used for all identifications. Where possible pictures representing the sides of the head and body are presented as well as a frontal facial picture. The reported details (sex, paternity, offspring, and range etc.) have been summarised from that reported in the forum, some of this information is well confirmed whilst some is more speculative…. ‘