Shawn Catterall is our General Manager at Tshukudu Lodge. Not only does she take incredible images but has some wonderful stories to tell. Read on and be transported to the bushveld.
The Wildebeest were all standing to attention - staring attentively in one direction - and that only means one thing – a predator of some kind. All of our guests were watching them from the main deck of the lodge during our high tea. We got the binoculars out and our viewing scope to see if we could locate the suspect. We tried to see what they were looking at but the trees were in the way.
I didn’t have to ask twice, in a wild rush our guests went down the stairs, jumped into the vehicles off we went. The guests were chatting among themselves excitedly, trying to guess what it could be. Could it be the two lionesses who frequent the lodge with the two tiny cubs? Or maybe the cheetah boys who come and visit at least once a month? By the time we got into the area, the wildebeest were relaxed again and even started to lay down. My heart sank, but in order to keep the guests involved we stopped and looked under and behind each bush and anywhere in between, but still, nothing.
The other vehicles drove off and I couldn’t believe that I had called the situation so incorrectly. Why would the wildebeest stand like that if it wasn't true? I told my guests that maybe they thought they saw something, or maybe the suspect had gone up into the mountains. I got out of the vehicle and dispensed waters to our guests, we had a small chat and decided to head out. I looked up pensively towards the mountain as we were driving down the access road – still nothing.
And then I saw it, just a tail, a white tipped tail. I couldn’t believe it! I was so excited I couldn’t speak, I just pointed excitedly. The guests' heads jerked to the right and then there was mayhem. They had also seen it and it was walking on top of the ridge…a male leopard.
We had never seen leopard in the day at the lodge, this was a phenomenal sighting, but as a guide who is passionate about getting the best for her guests, I wanted the leopard to be closer so that my guests could take some good photographs. We followed it further down the access road but it was very shy. I called our other vehicles to come back. With extreme patience, we waited on the downhill. I think the leopard decided he wasn’t going to get away with hiding in the rocks so he came down and jumped over the road in front of my vehicle! All you heard was silence and the clicking of cameras. I was speechless, and afterwards, my guests were babbling excitedly.
I decided to follow the leopard up the opposite side of the hill, he was still very shy and did not want to come out into the open. Again, we waited patiently. Suddenly he came down into the open, we thought he was going to go back the way he came, but no, there is only one huge dead tree that had been pushed over by an elephant long ago, no branches in the way and open for everyone to see. He climbed onto the tree and posed for us for about 10 minutes, no words were spoken, silence again…we watched him watching us. After his posing efforts, which he got 10 out of 10 for, he climbed down and then climbed into another tree a little further away and fell asleep. I looked around at my guests, faces full of emotion. As a guide, there is no better sight than seeing your guests with that look on their faces.
After another 10 minutes of photographs and watching, we decided to leave him in peace to sleep. We have only seen leopards close to the lodge at night and they have been so shy, one just sees the flash of their spots maybe three times in 11 years. So this sighting was beyond words. For a very long time, my guests were very quiet in the back of the vehicle and I could see that they were reflecting on this special sighting and the respect for leopards who are so secretive, elusive and yet can evoke such deep emotions in people who see them.