(If you want to skip right to the climax you can view my other photo story which shows the entire Leopard attacking a Crocodile photo sequence.)
The following journal entry is from a day I spent in South Africa.
It turned out to be one of the luckiest days of my life.
Grab a bowl of popcorn and enjoy the show.
(note: I do not condone killing animals just to stick their heads on the wall, like these African guest house owners did.)
Location: Kruger National Park, South Africa
Today has been one of the greatest days of my life. But it didn’t start out that way.
We get up at 6:00 AM, not enough sleep, and go for a drive around Skukuza (the campground we stayed at.) From 6:00 til around 8:30 we don’t see much. This is supposed to be the best time of day!? It is cloudy and dim. It looks like it might even rain. Not a great day for taking photos.
We return to the camp, buy groceries and eat breakfast. I photograph a few elephants across the river from the picnic area.
Then we head back out and things start happening. We stop on a nearby bridge to look at some hippos. They seem a bit agitated so we hang around for a while to see what happens.
Suddenly . . . .
… there are two chasing each other!
They move like torpedos underwater, creating a wake on the surface!
Then they erupt from the river with their mouths wide open, like the shark from Jaws!!
It’s terrifying and amazing and thrilling!
One chases the other around a small island on which two large crocodiles lie, eying the scene warily.
Sometimes the hippos run through very shallow water, splashing everywhere.
They stop and face off, gaping mouths open, huge canine teeth exposed.
They each take a breath and dive under, the water begins to froth, and then…
They explode from the water! Massive jaws spreading wide and snapping. Water shooting everywhere. Bodies springing straight up out of the water!
Abigail is yelping and shrieking and gasping!
It’s just amazing that these giant slugs can move like that! I fire through 5 or 6 rolls of film in about 15 minutes. This is what I’ve been waiting to see!
Finally the action settles down and we move on.
Whew, that was intense! My trigger finger is actually tired! That’s a first.
Now I can see why the hippo is considered the deadliest animal in Africa.
We say to each other, “The only thing that could possibly top that is to see a predator catch something.”
But of course we’ll never see something like that.
Driving along, we come to a traffic jam.
Someone says there’s a cheetah way back there in the bush! (We’ve never seen a cheetah so this is exciting news.) We pull over and search the thick scrubby undergrowth. I’m searching through my big lens, Abigail with binoculars.
Suddenly and impossibly, I SEE SPOTS!
Are spots good camouflage? See if you can find the cat in this photo!
But this is not a cheetah, it’s a leopard!
(Can you tell the difference between a cheetah and a leopard? Which one is which?)
(Did you get it? The cheetah is on top, the leopard on the bottom!)
It lifts its head, glances around, stands up and walks to the left. Now Abigail spots it. It disappears into the bush, never to be seen again.
We make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while waiting to see if it resurfaces.
Our second leopard in 4 days! Incredible! We talked to a guy last night who said he’s only seen one in 20 years and he comes here every year!
On down the road we go, wondering what our next surprise will be…
We see many of the usual things along the way: zebras, giraffes, elephants, kudus.
Up the road we see a pile of hippos at a waterhole (Silolweni Dam) so we drive down to take a few shots. Abigail has become the official driver and I’m usually in the back so I can shoot out of either window (We’re not allowed to leave the car, might get eaten.) I roll down the window, plop my rice-bag on the window edge and set my 600mm lens on top of it.
There appear to be at least 30 of them and they’re all out of the water, up on the banks, sleeping. It’s a cool, cloudy day, almost cold. They’re separated into three clumps at different parts of the waterhole, densely packed together within these clumps.
What blobs they are!
I’m shooting away at a cute baby surrounded by huge adults when Ab suddenly gasps.
“Omigosh what’s that …”
A speeding shape suddenly blasts out of the tall grasses! It charges across the red expanse of dusty, dry soil toward the waterhole.
It hits something at the edge of the water, sends up a splash and appears back on the shore. I swing my camera and start firing before I have any idea what it is.
It’s a leopard!
And it caught a CROCODILE!
A BIG ONE!
THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING!
It drags the thrashing crocodile away from the water.
They are tumbling around in the red dust …
First the crocodile’s tail is pointing straight into the air, waving like a flag. Then it thrashes and snaps, they flip and tumble. The crocodile attempts a death-roll. It flips the cat but he lands on his feet. The leopard has it by the side of the throat and is holding on for dear life. I can see the crocodile’s stubby legs clawing frantically at the leopard’s belly, its jaws snapping at air all the while. The leopard regains control and gets on top of it, pinning it to the ground momentarily.
The Clash of the Titans! Predator vs. Predator! This is FANTASTIC!
The leopard begins dragging the crocodile away from the water, straining, awkwardly straddling it between his legs, jaws still clamped to the armored throat. He tries to keep the croc off the ground to prevent another roll. The leopard drags and heaves the mighty reptile up into the grasses and out of sight.
Meanwhile . . .
… all the hippos are standing up, frightened by the leopard.
Some are heading to the water and many babies are suddenly visible!
I begin snapping away at these!
A herd of elephants appears to our left, approaching the waterhole.They’ve come for a drink!
I swing my camera around and begin clicking.
This is amazing. All lined up at the edge of the water with their trunks in. Huge ones next to tiny ones!
I’ve been dying to see this and here it is, in the midst of all this action.
I’m swinging my camera back and forth between the elephants, the hippos, a crocodile on the shore, several waterbirds I’ve never seen, a troop of baboons, impalas and waterbucks in the distance…THIS IS TOO MUCH!
HEY LOOK! The leopard is in view again!
Still dragging the crocodile! It looks as though the croc has given up the fight. It hangs limply now, blood running from its wound.
More cars have shown up and everyone is straining to see the leopard up the hill. One guy jumps on the roof of his van for a better view.
Abigail seems to think this is a good idea. In her frenzy of excitement she jumps on the roof of our rental car, caving in the roof! Oh man! Our adrenaline is pumping. This whole scene has happened in the course of about 5 minutes.
Then the leopard is gone.
Abigail climbs down and we bang out most of the dents from the inside. Hopefully they won’t notice.
We drive away, elated in the after-glow, disbelieving. Yes, that was definitely the most amazing thing we’ve ever seen.
During our drive to Satara camp we see a few other neat things.
A Bateleur eagle dropped out of the sky right next to us and ate the charred remains of some little critter that died in the wild fires.
We see wildebeest, a tortoise, a fish eagle.
Plus one more terrifying encounter…
It’s almost 6:00 now and we’re dashing for the campground. The gates close at six and they charge a penalty for being late.
Ahead of us is a giant herd of buffalo standing in the road. We drive very slowly and carefully between them.
They stare at us from 3 feet away, looking like they want to flip our car over.
(which they could easily do, that plate of horn is made for bashing.)
We arrive at Satara camp just in time. It’s beautiful, like all the other campgrounds. Large thatch-roof buildings forming a small village. We’ve been camping in a tent but tonight we decide to try to get a bungalow. We ask at reception and they have one available. Abigail is thrilled. She’s dying for a bed and a pillow
(We rented camping gear with our car but they forgot the pillows.)
(Our bungalow and our rental car.)
We eat dinner in the restaurant. It’s quite lovely. (The light fixtures are kudu horns with ostrich eggs on top.) Nice music. A good buffet.
We make a toast to the crocodile who fell victim to a very special leopard.
A leopard who has turned the tables for the first time in history.
It doesn’t get any better than this.
And that’s the end of one day in Africa. I hope you enjoyed it!