It was July in the Mara Triangle, and our Wild Eye Mara Camp had just opened for a new season of unforgettable safaris.
After enjoying a freshly brewed cup of coffee around the fire with Dickson and the team, my guests and I set off as the sun was peaking through some dense cloud cover, something which is quite common in the Masai Mara.
As we turned off our access road onto the main road heading north, we heard Impala's alarm calling... The sun had not quite managed to force its way through the cloud cover which meant it was still fairly dark. "Leopard on the left!" I clearly remember Sammy shouting. A sub-adult Leopard was staring at us through the long grass (the migratory herds had not arrived by yet so the grass was taller than usual). "Look to the right!" Jimmy in the vehicle next to us shouted with pure excitement. To our amazement, another Leopard, the mother of the sub adult we saw first, had just taken down a fully grown male Impala.
The Impala was big, easily more than her own body weight. The alarm calls were deafening as this female Leopard battled her way through some long grass and over the main road, desperately trying to drag her prized kill to some cover, away from other predators. It was only our two vehicles present, and with it still being very early and a long way away from other camps, we realised that we are incredibly fortunate to have this incredible sight all to ourselves.
The Masai Mara is home to some of the highest predator densities in Africa, so naturally the Leopard's fear of getting her prized kill to cover was justified. It only took a few minutes before five or six Spotted Hyena's, who had clearly heard the distress call of the Impala being taken down, made an appearance. Nature is all about numbers, and in this particular case, numbers were not in the Leopard's favour as the Hyaenas instantly surrounded her, desperately wanting a piece of her kill. Risks need to be weighed up in scenarios like this, and with a sub adult cub still very much dependant on her, it simply was not worth risking injury or even death to defend her kill.
The Hyaenas devoured the kill and all was over before the golden light could even pass through, it was literally minutes.
With the Leopard's chances of getting any food diminishing by the second, she bravely made a few appearances, trying her level best to intimidate individual Hyaenas who had all dispersed with their own bits and pieces. This was all to no avail as even the isolated Hyaenas proved to be too strong for this female Leopard.
It was a bitter sweet moment... We were truly honoured to be able to see this all unfold in front of us, a sighting that definitely doesn't come around every day, but at the same there was a feeling of sadness and pity towards the Leopard who had worked so hard to provide food for her cub.
The next morning we decided to carefully patrol the area where we had seen both Leopards the previous morning. With her kill stolen the day before, we knew that she would try her luck again, and with so many Impala's in the vicinity there was a good chance that she would get lucky. We carefully scanned around, frequently stopping to look through the binoculars, checking every tree and bush, looking for any alarm call or alert behaviour from the antelopes... There was nothing. Was she gone? Did she decide that the presence of other predators was too much of a risk for her? Would she come back? These were the questions we were asking ourselves in the vehicles as we made our way breakfast...
As we arrived for breakfast, met Dickson and the incredible team at the breathtaking Out of Africa breakfast site, Dickson mentioned that they had seen a Leopard with a kill in a tree close to Camp. We had driven past that tree a few hours earlier and specifically checked where he had explained they saw her (I now check that tree every single time) and know she wasn't there.
As we enjoyed the spectacular views over the Mara, there was a sense of excitement from all of us, firstly that she managed to make another kill, and secondly that she was able to hoist it up a tree.
It wasn't a very difficult decision where we would go after breakfast, as we immediately made our way to the famous "camp tree".
With our appetites completely satisfied thanks to Pascal, and with a fridge full of a variety of drinks, we dedicated the rest of the day to spending time with this Leopard and her cub.
I had a similar scenario the year before, with a Leopard in the exact same tree. We spent two entire afternoons waiting for her to come down that year, and on both occasions missed out as we had to return to Camp shortly after sunset. Surely, surely it won't happen again???
As we arrived at the "famous tree" both the mother and the cub were fast asleep in the tree, wedging themselves comfortably on some of the branches at the top of the tree. This was going to take a while... but, we had a mission and were prepared to wait it out...
As the harsh light was fading away and the sun slowly started going down, our chances started decreasing by the minute... We would regularly check our settings to make sure that we were prepared for that moment we'd been waiting for...
The female Leopard got up and started feeding on the carcass which was very well hidden in the tree. The sub adult cub soon joined in, but was a lot more clumsy, trying to move the kill around, slowly untangling it from the tree until all of a sudden the kill dropped. Within a split second the mother was down the tree, grabbing the kill and effortlessly hoisting it back into the tree. I was the ultimate display of sheer strength and elegance combined into one.
I think about that female Leopard a lot, and wonder how she's doing... I hope that one day, I can find her again, in that "famous tree, hopefully with a new generation of cubs.