Introduction by Guided Safaris
Sincere thanks to our guest Mrs. Amy Lynn for this heartfelt and humbling account brought home from a special safari with us earlier this month at Singita Game Reserves in South Africa and the Wilderness camps in Botswana. The Ravenscourt female leopard was the passing of a great legend and having received such sincere letters from our past guests expressing fond memories of their time where she kept company on their drives we felt this to be a fitting tribute to the leopards of Singita. An unforgettable moment to be a part of in the natural cycle of things in this unfiltered, unadorned corner of the world.
“We are back. Guided Safaris delivered everything they said they would. It was a great trip the entire way. The wildlife sightings and experiences were incredible in Mombo. However, we did have our single greatest wildlife experience of all time while we were at Singita [..] Wow and horrific at the same time. Anyway, thanks for putting the pieces of the trip together for us […] Hopefully, we will have you do it again for us in the near future. All the best.”
– R. Lynn
“May I also express my thanks for orchestrating a great trip and 60th birthday celebration that never seemed to end! Here is my journal entry for our most unforgettable game drive ever, plus a few photos.”
– Amy Lynn
TRAVEL JOURNAL – Mon June 3
This was quite possibly the most emotional game drive we had ever experienced….
It was warm, clear and sunny as we left on our final game drive at Singita at 0650. As we were exiting the camp, another Land Rover from Boulders crossed our path going in the opposite direction. Within 5 minutes into our drive, the other Land Rover was radioing us that they had found a leopard.
When we caught up to them they had in fact found two leopards- a 9 year old mother, referred to as the Raven Court female, and her 16 month old male cub. They were walking through the bush and you could see that the cub was trying to be playful- frolicking and chasing the mother. There was a theory that the mother had made a kill close by and was leading the cub towards it.
They were gorgeous and the mother was especially beautiful with a strong golden color to her coat. As they walked in and out of the sun light, we got some amazing photographs.
Then suddenly the cub dashed up a tree and there was a third leopard on the scene! It was a four year old male, who was notorious for killing cubs that were not from his gene pool (unfortunately common with leopards) in fact he had killed this cub’s sibling when they were quite young. Now he was clearly back for the older cub.
The male lay down beneath the tree where the cub was seeking refuge. The mother snarled and hissed at the intruder and walked the entire perimeter of the area, perhaps trying to either scare him off or lure him away. But the male leopard seemed to care less. He continued rubbing his scent around the area and playfully rolling around on his back as if he didn’t have a care in the world. The cub cried out from his refuge in the trees.
For over an hour the mother circled the area. She came incredibly close to all three vehicles that had assembled to observe the stand-off. At one point she came right under the tree. The male did not appear to react and this seemed like the window where the baby might have escaped- but he was too afraid to come down, and the mother retreated.
The suddenly the male leapt up the tree! The mother immediately followed and there was so much fighting and growling it was hard to see what was happening. Coleman immediately moved the Land Rover to a safer distance and then the most unbelievable thing happened- the mother and the male, embroiled in a death grip on each other fell out of the tree! I think we were all stunned, and no one was taking pictures, but the male and female kept right on fighting.
It was horrible. Clearly the physical superior, the male was on top of the female. It was hard to tell if he was trying to kill her or just bite her into submission, but we saw deep gashes on both sides of her neck. She fought hard, scratching at his face and neck, but he was too strong for her. It became clearer and clearer that he meant to hurt her. His face was covered with blood but I kept hoping that the situation looked worse than it really was. We hoped the cub might come down from the tree and help the mother, but he seemed too inexperienced to really grasp what was happening.
It was beyond upsetting. At one point Richard, Coleman, Christopher and I were all overwhelmed with emotion and crying, and we heard that other guests and guides had a similar response.
Then suddenly the male backed off and wandered over to another tree to lie down. We could see the female breathing very heavily. Her head seemed very bloody and every time she tried to stand up she would collapse back down. We had no way of knowing if this was from loss of blood or exhaustion from the fight, but it didn’t bode well. We were paralyzed. We didn’t know whether to stay and see how things played out or leave. It seemed pretty clear that the cub would be the next victim and we decided that none of us wanted to witness that as well, and yet part of me desperately wanted to know how it ended.
As we drove away I was crying. Coleman called the habitat manager to see if they could get a vet out there and possibly help the female. The cub seemed doomed either way. Even if he escaped this time, Coleman said that this male had been stalking them for weeks and it was unclear if the cub could survive on his own. Since the female was currently pregnant by another male (the guides had seen her mating about 90 days previous- cubs take about 3 ½ months to be born) she would not have mated with this male, which is probably why he killed her, besides his desire to also kill the cub.
Coleman promised to email me when he found out what happened. During lunch at the lodge we heard that the area had been zoned off and the vet was on the way, but when we landed in Johannesburg, a woman on our plane who worked for Singita got an email that the female had died. The Raven Court female was a vital part of the Singita biosphere. She was a rare breeding female who was one of the few that was habituated and unfettered by the vehicles. Losing her would leave a huge void in the leopard population as well as reduce the chances of guests seeing a female leopard. My brain told me it was just nature but my heart was so sad. Leopards seem so rare and beautiful and this killing had seemed so senseless.
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Photo credits: All Journal Photography by Guided Safaris guests Mr. & Mrs. Lynn from June 3, 2013; Singita Game Reserves.