Summer 2022 | Helen Mertens

Predators galore

As guides working closely with our trackers, we often wonder whether there is anything out there that determines the quality of our sightings. Is it sheer luck, Karma, the energy we put out into the universe or the expectations of our guests? Perhaps a mix of everything, plus instinct and understanding animal behaviour.

In February, both Deirdre Opie and I were able to share a truly incredible sighting with our respective guests, close to the mountains south of the Motse.

Late in the afternoon, after having spent most of the drive following a female cheetah and her sub-adult cub west into the dunes, my guests and I came across two male cheetahs who were walking straight towards where the female had been seen a few hours earlier. Intrigued as to what may happen, we followed them. They walked slowly up the road, marking their territory regularly on bushes and trees until they finally reached a large camel thorn tree. They continued with their routine of smelling previous activity around the base of the tree, but before they deposited their own scent mark they started getting incredibly excited. It was chaos! They were vocalizing loudly – the equivalent of shouting – while running around, scouring the area, looking for the female cheetah, as if desperate to find her.

This continued well after dark and after a while, our guests were happy to call it a day and head back to camp. We knew the female was long gone and out of earshot. We left the males to their desperate search and headed back towards the Motse. No more than a few hundred metres down the road, we came across a leopard! It was a young female, quietly and decisively walking up the road straight towards the male cheetahs. She was also scent marking on trees and bushes, and as she got closer to the cheetahs she started seeking them out. Perhaps she thought the excitement in the air was linked to a kill and the possibility of finding food. At any rate, the leopard followed the noise until she encountered the two males, still running around and completely ignoring her presence. She lost interest and began to walk back towards the road, resuming her original route. We followed her back to the road and came across a spotted hyena! He popped out of the bush, making it three predators in one sighting! It was a tough act for Deirdre and I to follow as both parties of guests were on their first game drive on their first night in camp.

Spotted hyena

This sighting is testament to the advantages of having a private vehicle on safari and the exclusivity of Tswalu – just a few guests sharing a vast, privately protected area. As guides, it gives us the freedom to stay with animals for prolonged periods of time – either until the sighting is over or our guests are ready to move on or head back to camp.

Images by Barry Peiser.