Curse you, I whispered under my breath as I slowly sipped the last of my coffee, hoping
it would wash down the pressure and stress I was currently experiencing. The full moon
in its bright glory had made a mockery of me and no mater what I tried, could not get a
male leopard to eat on any of my baits during the course of my previous safari. I had
started pre-baiting a week prior to that first safari with some good male hits, females with
2 kittens and brown hyenas, all enjoying the buffet I hung for them.
However enter the full moon, and male leopards just walk snobbishly past baits turn their noses up and carry on. Even female appetites become naggingly indifferent. Welcome to Leopard
hunting!!!!! Frustrating!!!!. But as I relished that last sip of warm coffee on a very brisk
morning, I realized our luck must change, it had to!!! The full moon was over now. We were hunting Insiza North and South communal Area, run and operated by my brother in law Lin Stanton of Mbalabala Safaris.. Here leopards have notoriously killed livestock on the many small scale farms that make up this district, since the time “Moses played quarter back for the Egyptians”. Leopards here are mostly nocturnal and weary. Super clever. Very Alert. And we are in their back yard!!
We basically picked up from where we left off, checking existing baits, re dragging, as it
was still day 1, until I got “that” telephone call. The one that I knew would alter the
course of this safari. A well respected, local businessman, called me urgently about a
leopard that killed one of his calves. It was in an area that I had 2 baits already but we
hadn’t checked them in a few days, due to uneducated cattle boys showing me hyena
tracks constantly, thinking they were leopard. Secondly the baits were beyond rotten so there
was no point refreshing, and 3rdly this farm is completely over run with Chinese lantern,
(dichrostachys cinera), well known to many a PH and client as having the reputation of
puncturing even the toughest of tyres, but I knew this businessman, he knew what a
leopard track is, and wouldn’t lie to me. So off we went.
After a brief meeting, we left for his farm, some 17kms out of the small mining
community Filabusi. By the time we arrived it was late and there nothing left of the
carcass, but a couple hundred yards or so away on a cattle trail, distinctly imprinted into
the sand were 2 tracks A male and female leopard. Great!!!!!
We hurried around the North western boundary of the farm, hoping to get in front of the 2
felines, and swung some meat in a suitable looking tree. Taking into account the position
of the setting sun, and where my blind would go, and which branch I would put the meat
onto, so as to give me a better view of the cats angling torso, and look for what’s
affectionately known as “the golden toolbox”
Day 2 found us back at the farm. Nothing had fed. I split my two trackers, Pizza and
Vumani up with the National Parks ranger and council Scout to walk all boundary’s to
find their tracks, whilst myself and Brian set off to get bait. Plan was meet back at said
point for lunch then go hang baits in the area where the trackers were supposed to find
fresh spoor. Welcome back to leopard hunting 101. As we were about to exit the
boundary, I saw their pug marks in the road!!!!! Glistening, abit further away than
expected, but none the less still fresh. We had to act fast now and “flood bait” the area.
Sticking to the plan we sped off towards our “donkey area”, a very open grassy savannah
1hour north of our current position. We use Donkeys as bait here as the meat doesn’t get
stolen. 1 donkey normally makes 4 baits, but I had a male and female here so didn’t want
to scrimp on meat, we’d double up our baits. Making our way there, something inside my brain kept nagging at me. It only dawned on me later that night. Always check your baits
no matter how rotten!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So, a little after lunch on day 2, found us back with 2 donkeys and raring to hang baits. I told the guys about my findings and we hung baits accordingly. We ran out of time and light so headed back to the farm for a warm shower, dinner etc.
Day 3 found us back here, The plan was to check baits and go bait another area, near a
very large and popular bass dam, where I had activity previously. We checked all baits
and then braved the thorns and checked my last 2 remaining and very rotten baits, that I’d
hung previous safari. Both Baits had been eaten and looked like they had been licked
clean. Tracks indicated that they were a couple days old. A male and female at the one
bait site and 1,8km south east a lone male. Tracks looked very similar but was hard to
say. We quickly refreshed the baits, re dragged and re moved ourselves from the area.
Day 4 found us starting near the bass dam, as I did not want to go into the other area too
early and potentially, chase a cat off a bait. The “bass dam” cat had been active but hadn’t
fed for a while now. We found his track in the road and I decided to get Pizza to follow to
see where he was going whilst I proceeded to check our other pre hung baits. Our female
had returned with her kittens so I put some more bait and hung another warthog bait
where Pizza had found our boy had been frequenting. A lot!!!!We checked all baits at the businessman’s farm and headed back to Lindon’s farm as nothing had hit.
Day 5 found us back at “bass dam” checking baits and looking for sign of our boy.
Nothing! The female was still feeding contentedly with her kittens although trail cam pics
suggest she got annoyed with a brown hyena who was trying in vain to steal a meal, as
she left the bait around 12am and only returned and 04 45hrs after “His Royal Nuisance”
had left. There are quite a number brown hyena around here and all to often I believe
leopards get blamed for a killed or missing goat, when it’s actually these brown hyenas.
Never the less we made our way the filabusi farm, fingers crossed and everyone in silent
a cup of blood on the baits and leave. Perhaps to muffle the human smell, although these
leopards are all well used to the scent. We did see the females track alone, but she had
moved about 5kms south east of where we’d found her tracks on day 2. Interesting I
thought, all the while secretly hoping she’d finished her night time shenanigans with our
“Filabusi Fella”, she was alone…… good sign..….. yes!!!!...... Maybe he was
hungry………Good sign….. yes……….they’d definitely split…….. He must feed…….
Or she must…….. and bring him to bait……….. In any case it was the end of the day and
we still had 9 to go. Lots can change in that time!!!!
Day 6 found us early in filabusi….. We had decided that between this cat and the cat at
the “bass dam” they would have our entire undivided attention. There would be no need
to go to another area (fort Rixon), 75kms north west of, where we had a male kill a full
grown donkey a mere 200yds from a bait that I’d previously hung…. Leopard hunting
101 Frustrating.We began checking baits, and had a small side bet going on as to which bait would be fed on first…..Brian in this instance won, as the bait he had picked had been hit!!! And
this happened to be one of those old rotten bait sites……… Now the exciting part. Check
for spoor, …… yes a male. Alone!!!!! Direction he left……. Where to put the blind…………. Faeces near the tree indicating he’d claimed this as his……. . I noticed he didn’t really eat much meat and it was still bright red. He has to come back……. I had to put more meat just in case!! Drop the nearest bait.
Rush back to the farm to collect blind kit, hurry up and put up blind before 1500hrs. Be
as quiet as possible. Be back in the blind by 1600hrs and it was now 10:17am. I must
make mention of the fact here that we had cut all shooting lanes and cleared sites so we
were pretty well organized. Just had put up my reed blind, fit rifle, tie it down, set up
listening device and night light, throw mattresses in with warm blankets and Voi’la.
Hurry up and Wait!!!!!!!
The stage was set, the scene surreal, we had entered the blind quietly. Settled in. Quick
test all go!!!!!! Now Hurry up and wait some More!!!! At 1907hrs a loud cry of bushbaby
startled us all. I turned the listening device up slightly but nothing. At exactly 1947hrs As
I sat listening to all the sounds of the night, my listening device bubbled into life. I had
not heard its approach, but those sounds emanating out of that little speaker were obvious
and belonging to only one creature, Panther Pardus!!!! I slowly reached for Rudi (South
African PH and agent) to be ready to switch on lights upon my double finger prod. I then
reached for Brian who had also heard the noise and was in position already. I prodded
Rudi the pre arranged 2 times and the faintest of lights indicated a spotted ghost standing
near the bait.
Come on show me your “tool box”, only one cat, nothing else lying on the ground, still
cant see nuts, and the spotted ghost gently departed from the tree. Switch the light off I
whispered to rudi, whilst turning the listening device a little louder.1 minute later its back
in again tearing at the meat, I prod Rudi again. This time the cat turns 180degrees and lies
down on the tree limb vigorously eating some meat and ribs it had torn off. It looks up at
the little LED light un perturbed. Takes a few mouthfuls and again departs from tree. I
whisper again to Rudi to turn the light off. At this time I whispered to Brian, did you see
it? Yes……..very clearly……… its awesome was his raspy reply. I whispered again, be
patient, leopard is not phased and all I need to do is see nuts, we have
time………………. No problem, you say the word…… 5 minutes later the little speaker
began whispering sweet nothings to me……….again I prod Rudi….. on goes the light,
Brian in position ready, and I still can’t see nuts. Just watching this awesome creature is
something I will never forget. 2-3mins go by, felt like hours…….. then,….. he lifted his
tail just enough for me to whisper the sweetest words Brian has ever heard……. Shoot
The 300 ultra mag Roared. I watched the thunder flash through my binoculars, he’s on
the floor, crawling shoot him again, Boom…….. still moving…… one more……..
Trackers arrive serious congrats and high fives all around. Pack up blind, and equipment
remove trail cam and head off to farm for the first leopard party of the year. Getting a
leopard on day 6 of a 14 day safari is like scoring 2 goals in extra time. The rest of the
safari saw us head to the falls and Sidinda for some out of season fishing, where Brian
managed to catch some tilapia and a few cat fish.
Brian also shot a monkey and a baboon. Hopefully see Brian again one day in the not too
distant future for a hyena and a bushbuck!!!
I Leave the “bass dam” and the “Fort Rixon” cats till another day…….