There is a passage in the Bible, in the Old Testament that foretells of a time where there will be paradise on earth and everything will be in harmony, predators and prey will be at peace and the leopard will lie down with the kid”.
Well in The Kruger national park, in the lush green summer months, the rivers are in full flow and the Mopani trees are bubbling over with birds, the northern parts of the park don’t feel that far removed from paradise. So, can you imagine how our jaws dropped when against that magnificent backdrop, a leopard really did lie down with a kid? It was in early December, and my wife and I were staying at Shimuwini Bushveld Camp in the northern region of the park.
We were expecting some remarkable sightings on our trip, because, as many South-Africans know, the bush is impenetrably thick in the summer, particularly in the Mopani veld of that area, which makes game spotting very hard. We had decided to a leisurely morning drive from Shimuwini down to Letaba rest camp, following the dirt roads, past Mingerhout and onto the tarred road that heads south to Letaba.
Passing a small clearing, we saw a single impala ewe lying all alone on the open patch of ground. There was something very odd about this, so we pulled up alongside her. Our car had barely stopped when, to our amazement, she started giving birth. I switched off the engine and settled in to watch this amazing event. After about what felt like about ten minutes of excruciating pain, the baby impala had the first glimpse of its new world, as it smoothly slid out behind her in a wet bundle and shook its head, flapping its oversized ears.
The mother wasted no time, stretching around, eating the birth sac and licking her newborn clean-clearly aware of their exposure to predators and no doubt, in a hurry to get her calf up and running to rejoin the herd., where there would be safety in numbers. Suddenly the mood dramatically changed; the mother started jerking her body and staring fixated into the bush behind. “Why does she look so scared?”, asked my wife.
Before I could even respond, the ewe sprang up and, with parts of the afterbirth and birth sac still hanging out of her, crashed off into the bush, leaving the calf lying prone and confused in the middle of the open ground. A large adult male leopard appeared from the bushes to the left and sauntered over to the calf. The leopard knew we were watching and kept its eyes fixed on us as it bent its knees and crouched down alongside the calf.
Then, just as the Bible had prophesied, the leopard lay down alongside it. For a brief moment, both the leopard and calf lay there, staring at us while we stared back at them. It was an extraordinary scene- this huge predator lying calmly along with its newborn prey- we didn’t dare breathe for fear of disturbing it. It was to be short-lived though, and any notion that this was indeed heaven on earth as in the Bible passage asserted, was soon crushed; the leopard edged forward, steadied the calf with its gigantic paw then wrapped its jaws around the calf’s head and bit down hard. It was fast, and it was over…
Would you like to read more of these African animal stories?