The wild dance of summer rain left us when the first grey of dawn broke on the horizon. The earth was drenched, layers of desert sand cooled down and all around life was singing a song of gratitude. In the dim light of daybreak, we noticed that the pan has filled up with more animals – red hartebeest, more springbok and gemsbok and wildebeest. And a lot of jackal…making a huge racket.
Partner stopped in his tracks where he was loading the last odds and ends into the vehicle and asked for the binoculars. He looked for a while and then rushed to me where I filled our flask with hot water – “Look”, he said, “I am sure there are two cheetah’s behind the wildebeest!” I looked and noticed two yellow patches in the grass and then behind them, two cats, but the legs were too short for cheetah. It was leopard.
Suddenly our leisurely pace became frenzied and we literally threw the remainder of our stuff into the back of the vehicle. Luckily we packed away almost everything the previous night as we thought that there was a possibility of a storm. We rushed off to the opposite side of the pan where we had seen the leopards.
Upon arrival, a picture of ten or so jackal mobbing a young female leopard and a four month old cub met us. She was extremely nervous, torn between the safety of her cub and her kill. Here is the perplexing thing – she had killed TWO springbok! Both carcasses were lying within a meter from each other. One springbok had quite a chunk eaten from its loin but the other one was hardly touched – just a little opening in the belly where the soft intestines were pulled out and blood was still running freely – which meant that this animal was killed not too long ago. The jackals closed in on the leopard, and she started to retreat with the young cub in tow. Within a few minutes, she disappeared, opting for safety rather than risking confrontation with a pack of crazed jackal. I felt so sorry for her, there were no trees in the immediate vicinity of the pan large enough to carry her kill to safety. What a brave attempt to kill in the open plains with a small cub. At least she had a bit to eat…
Then followed a complete anti-climax. The jackals left with her! I sat and stared at the two dead springbok in astonishment. Bloody stupid jackals, I thought to myself, what was their plan in all of this? We decided to wait a while to see if perhaps the leopard would return. Out with the coffee since we missed out on our morning boost. As we were dipping our rusks, partner caught movement from opposite the pan at the camping site. He drew in his breath and choked on his rusk as he gestured to me. BROWN hyena!
We watched in amazement as the animal looped in the direction of the two carcasses where we sat. It was almost surreal to see an animal we have been yearning about for so long. We were watching a live National Geographic show on the biggest screen on earth… A few of the jackals returned, but they gave the hyena a wide berth – respectful almost, they kept their distance and their quiet. The brown hyena approached the one carcass and gave it a sniff down, then walked to the other carcass and started to tear the stomach open. It took a huge chomp of meat and walked a few paces away to eat. At this stage, the jackals moved in – not on the kill – they started to pick on the hyena! Abruptly the hyena turned towards them and bristled its mane, making it look much larger and very fierce.
The hyena continued eating a bit on one carcass and then on the other – somewhat overwhelmed by this feast, and all the while, the jackals kept on pestering it for little tidbits. It was strange, since they could simply walk to one of kills and eat their fill, yet they chose to scavenge from the hyena. Perhaps the abundance of meat confused their ingrained behaviour patterns.
A half an hour later, the hyena chomped of a quarter of the springbok and headed back in the direction of the camp site whence it came from. We watched as it disappeared into the shrubs and speculated that it must be a “she”, carrying food to a den not too far away from where we were camping. We found her tracks the previous afternoon but never in our wildest dreams expected to see her.
It was time for us to move on – an approximate 160 kilometer stretch lay ahead back to Nossob and we had to use the coolness of morning to our advantage, since we had the fuel supply dilemma…
Contrary to our visit in August, we never saw a large herd of eland – we saw none actually, but were treated to masses of gemsbok and kudu. The tsamma melons had turned into a pale yellow in a few months, their green watermelon-like appearance now resembling scattered ostrich eggs. We did not see any gemsbok cucumber fruits but noticed the beginnings of a new crop sprouting all over the dunes in preparation for the dry season. All along the road, little paths were visible where small creatures walked after the rain.
Nossob’s gates welcomed us by late afternoon. Approximately 60 kilometers from camp, we noticed that there was no evidence of rain and the temperature started to pick up in quantum leaps. One pit stop in the bush to cool down the vehicle delayed our journey with a half hour which we used for lunch.
The luxury of a chalet awaited us as we booked in. By now, the staff of Nossob deemed us family and the latest updates were exchanged. Two very bushed and dusty humans settled into their chalet and had a long shower sans the exciting possibility of approaching lions…