The day begins just before sunrise.
As we leave camp we notice some impala all standing at attention and looking the same way. We head that way to investigate.
Look in the river. Look around the river in the bush. No go.
In comes the call, lions. Not just lions but a new pride in the making. An established pride of three lionesses seems to have joined forces with a pride that started with two males and a female. However, the female has been shunned and was no longer with the group. The lions, five of them, were lounging on the sand alongside the river just a short distance away.
When we arrive we see the two males sleeping. The lionesses are near but one is wide awake, like she’s on guard duty. We get a good position for photos. Our hope is that as the sun rises from behind us, the lions will go into the river for a drink and we’ll get good photos head on with the fresh morning sun lighting up their faces.
One of the other rangers sees a leopard across the river. That would be behind us. We do not see the leopard. But the lioness on guard sees the leopard.
She begins her walk over, going right through the water in front of us.
The other lionesses follow her. After the three lionesses cross, the two males join.
They have found the leopard and have her trapped high in a tree.
The lions decide it’s time to sleep now. Under the tree, keeping the leopard trapped.
We wait. We watch.
The lions move around a little.
The leopard grumbles and hisses.
The lions move around a little more.
The leopard grumbles and hisses more.
The dance continues for some time.
As long as the leopard is patient, she can wait out the lions. She is far too high in the tree for them to reach her.
We leave the scene and move along on a quest for more leopards, two young females had been spotted not far away. On the way we are distracted by a beautiful green bird. This bird sits high in the tree, in the perfect sunlight. When it takes off it performs a loop and returns to the same branch. This little bird is not only photogenic, it’s cooperative.
We drive a little more and decide to stop for coffee and biscotti. We enjoy a hot cup while keeping an eye on the river. There is no danger, but who knows when an elephant might decide to cross the water, always great to watch.
From there we head back to the continued saga of the lions and the leopard. The monkeys are hollering. They want anyone that can hear to know that there’s some big predators here and they mean business.
Enter a herd of thirsty buffalo. The only thing between them and the water is lions. And a leopard.
A few of the male buffalo decide to bicker, throwing horns and grunting, dirt filling the air.
The buffalo move closer to the lions. The lions start to wake.
The leopard remains high in the tree.
The buffalo move closer to the lions. The lions are on their feet.
The leopard carefully watching from above. Safe.
The buffalo move in, the lions run for the water. Dirt flying.
Lions growling. Buffalo grunting.
After the lions are gone, and the buffalo are settled the leopard cautiously begins climbing down the tree. She looks around and goes down a branch. She checks for the lions’ location, goes down another two branches. She can’t be too careful. She makes her way to the ground, continuously looking around her for any chance of danger. Once she reaches the ground she slowly begins her walk to safety, walking and looking over her shoulder for dangers behind her. Once she is sure the dangers are gone, she runs from the area.
With that drama over, we return to the road in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Bicycle Crossing leopard. His nickname is The Godfather. He has the largest territory of any leopard in this part of the world. He is big and tough, and at 14 years old a little past his prime. We had seen him last night and heard he is still in the same area. He likely has a kill that we didn’t see and will remain there to eat.
On the way we receive word that there’s another male leopard in the area. They are aware of one another and hissing and growling.
Could there be a battle?
We speed up, but then must take a detour. There’s a rhinoceros sleeping in the road.
When we arrive we see the challenger, in the sand and reeds of the river. It’s a younger male, but he looks tough. Broad shoulders and nostrils flaring.
We hear The Godfather grunting and hissing.
Both leopards move around a little, but still do not approach each other.
One goes in for a drink.
The other moves around and repositions.
They continue this for some time while we watch and wait. Cameras poised and at the ready.
The challenger goes in swiftly, not quite at a run. The Godfather does not engage in conflict.
The challenger goes back to walk in the sand and get some distance. He decides to lay down in the sand. He is alert, not resting one bit.
Then The Godfather gets up and hops down into the sand. He slowly walks toward his challenger. The challenger gets up and slowly walks toward The Godfather. They walk parallel to each other, sizing the other up to prepare for battle.
The Godfather makes his move and chases his challenger into the reeds. There is little fighting that occurs and the challenger is nowhere to be found.
With his head high The Godfather returns to his meal. Swagger intact.
Curious about the lions we had seen we head back toward them and find them all sleeping at the river. The males on the big cool rock. The females are waterside on the sand.
We decide to head back to camp and on our way see a beautiful roller in the tree and snap a couple of quick photos. The drive as over.
It was time for breakfast.