Dark of night

Oct 29, 2018

What happens in the bush after dark? Our Senior Guide at Kwa Maritane Francois Mare went out in search of what happens when the sun goes down.

Sunset over the mountains of the Pilanesberg is mesmerising. It is a time for the body and mind to pause and reach a state of spiritual tranquillity while staring into the lingering light fading into darkness. But for some, this time of day marks the start of a war between life and death.

Many animals come to life at night to hide in the cover of darkness, to conceal themselves and surprise a possible meal with claws and fangs. I recently had a once in a lifetime experience with one of these predators.

Driving back towards the lodge one evening with safari guests, we stumbled across a leopard on the road, crossing as casually as leopards generally do. It disappeared into the long grass, but we encountered it further down the road as it was about to walk right into a herd of impala. We noticed the leopard hiding in a bush to our left just waiting for an opportunity or a sign of relaxation by the impala, but there was nothing.

The leopard moved to a point where we could park next to it and view it with our side spots without having the impala see it. We watched it for a few minutes before it got up to continue the hunt. The leopard used the truck, crawling right under it to hide from the impala.

Then it happened. She was about 15 metres away from the impala she was aiming for, when a lone wildebeest gave a quick snort. This resulted in some confusion among the herd and for a split second all the animals scattered in different directions, not knowing what was going on.

The leopard seized the opportunity and leapt through the grass towards the impala it was stalking. At the last moment the impala saw the leopard and tried to make a dash for cover, but it was too late. The leopard extended its front right paw and with one claw stretched out hooked the impala by the neck swinging it around creating a dance of life and death.

Dust and pebbles shot into the air as both fought to stay alive. The leopard, of course, won. After ensuring that the impala was dead, it dragged the impala straight past us into the mountains, where she could feast on her meal in peace.

Luck was certainly on our side that night as most of our night time driving is actually fairly quiet with the odd sighting of a lion, leopard or elephant. What I love most is the ambience created by darkness. Animals such as owls, brown hyenas, genets, civets, aardwolf, and the two I have yet to see, the aardvark and pangolin, all come out at night.

Never pass up the opportunity of being in the bush at night. It is strangely comforting. But never drop your guard for as the animals that live here know, it is a war between life and death, and its laws need to be respected.

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