Saturday, 27th August
We were up bright and early and left camp minutes after gate opening. This morning we would be moving down to Satara. We had a clear, blue sky and already the temperature was at 15 degrees. You know how sometimes you just feel it is going to be a fantastic day? Oh yes…today would be really special and luck was well and truly on our side as far as sightings go. Initially all was quiet on the tar road, just a single bull elephant striding out into the bush, then some zebras at Middlevlei, followed by two honey badgers racing through the grass. Great to see them in the daylight but too quick to get any good pictures. Along the Letaba river a large troop of baboons were playing and grooming each other.
As we neared Letaba camp, we toyed with the option of stopping for an early breakfast but decided (thank goodness) to take the S46 along the river and stop for a coffee break before planning a breakfast at Olifants. As we looked out for a place to stop and watch the wildlife along the river, we found an area with plenty of space to park although several other cars were in the area. Driving slowly down to the bank, a lady in another vehicle pointed out a group of 4 lions lying out on the far side of the river.
This is a great part of the Letaba river as there are so many places to just stop and watch yet plenty of space for other vehicles to park also so that everyone could share this special sighting. Their only agenda appeared to be a day of rest in the sunshine and, apart from the occasional get up and stretch, this is exactly what they did for as long as we stayed here. Hunger pangs were beginning to surface and we left the lions to their captivated audience.
Following the roads which clung to the river, we spotted several pods of Hippo, Grey Heron, Black-winged stilts, Spur-winged Geese, Egyptian Geese and then Richard called out ‘Stop’.
A young leopard was walking along our side of the river bank and, as we crept along the road, he began to walk closer to the road. Sensing he was not on his own, he suddenly jumped up into a large bush to hide.
We sat spellbound at his antics as we were certain the bush was not large enough to take his weight and it was not long before he landed back on the ground and sought another hiding place.
Moving even closer to us, the leopard dropped down into a donga and stood facing us. He (or she?) would move back and forth along the donga but kept returning for eye to eye contact with us.
We were privileged to have this sighting all to ourselves for nearly 20 minutes and when I heard another vehicle approaching from behind, I signalled for them to slow down so that I could point out where the leopard had gone. This just had to be our best ever leopard sighting and we left slowly in the hope that he would move out from the shelter of the donga to give the people in the other car a chance to watch him as we had done. The huge smiles on our faces as we pulled into Olifants for a rather late breakfast left no doubt how special our morning had been so far.
Fed and watered we drove down to the Balule causeway and stopped to watch a Goliath Heron poised on some stones searching for his next meal.
Turning back towards the tar road, we drove to the high water bridge and got out to watch elephants, crocodiles and a yellow-billed stork. The temperature had now climbed to 23 degrees but the weather was changing with more wind and cloud. As always there was plenty to see along this stretch of the road – Ground Hornbills, Kudu, Cape Buffalo, Wildebeest at Nyamarhi waterhole and, just north of Ngotso south, an impala hanging in a tree.
Obviously a leopard kill, we looked around eagerly but the meal was for a later time. Several Kori Bustards were walking close to the road, yet more ground hornbills (the conservation project started to increase their numbers must have been phenomenally successful), Ostriches,
more Lions in the distance with large herds of Wildebeest, Zebra And Buffalo.
By the time we drove into Satara we had been inundated with wildlife sightings but our luck still held good as there were still places available for a Sunset drive that evening. We checked in at the same time although it was too early to be given our keys and we drove out to Nsemani where we found a small Elephant herd, Zebra, Hippos and Fish Eagle.
We were keen to collect our keys as soon as possible so that I could prepare something for dinner which could be heated up quickly and easily when we came back from the sunset drive. I love sunset drives for the chance to have daylight and night-time sightings but it is always a dilemma whether to eat very early before you leave or on your return. Anyway, I prepped some sauce to have with pasta later and as soon as we could we packed up our cameras and made our way to the meeting point for the sunset drive.
We were an international crowd but all regular Kruger visitors and when our guide, Martin, arrived, it did not take long to run through the dos and don’ts of the drive. Everyone was aware of the Impala hanging in the tree and asked, if possible, could we make our way northwards in the hope that the Leopard have returned for his dinner. Martin assured us that he had the ‘lucky drive’ so we were content to see what the evening awaited us. We were not to be disappointed and on our way northwards enjoyed sightings of Elephant, Zebra, Wildebeest, Buffalo, Kori Bustard, Small-spotted Genet, African Wildcat, Civet and finally, reaching the tree containing the dead Impala, our dreams were fulfilled as the Leopard was spotted devouring his kill. Not quite sure whether we should admit to this but we were over the moon when Martin offered to drive off the road and try to get as close to the Leopard and his kill as possible so that we could all get good photos. It was such a special time and our Sam was almost shaking with excitement as he watched the Leopard enjoying his prize and with the blood running down his face. I fear we have turned him into a rather blood-thirsty child but at least he really understood the ‘circle of life’. Eventually we had to make our way back towards camp but on the way back found Chameleon, Black-backed Jackal, Duiker, Steenbok, White-Tailed Mongoose (long time since we had seen one of these) and, finally, Spotted Hyena before we turned up to the camp gates. WOW what a drive and we were all buzzing as we alighted from the truck.
Walking back to our bungalow, we were all ready to eat and it did not take long to heat up our dinner. Halfway through the meal, Sam happily called out ‘Nana, there’s a rat running under the table’. I jumped up screaming – I love wildlife with a passion with the exception of mice and rats. Never had I seen anything like it and I was absolutely beside myself with fear.
Thank goodness it eventually ran off the stoep rather than into the bedroom – just what I would have done if it had gone inside I just do not know…certainly I would have been sleeping in the car! It was only recently that I noticed another thread on the Kruger forum from Anne-marie who had taken a series of photos of a leopard eating a cane rate. It was just like the rat we had seen and I could identify our (un)welcome guest. Never had I seen such a thing either inside camp or in the bush. Whilst I could no doubt deal with seeing one in the bush with me safely in a car, never, never do I want to see another one running around my feet. I still have nightmares about the experience now. Sam and Richard just found it all rather funny although SO does know just how much I am terrified of such rodents. Most definitely this was a day and night to remember.