We woke up on our first morning at Djuma with mixed expectations. Our first drive the evening before was relatively quiet, with a sleeping pride of lions at a giraffe kill and some elephant action being the order of the day. Some would consider seeing lions on a giraffe kill to be a special sighting and it was, but we were after something else, something more elusive, something with spots.
While making our way to the main lodge to have morning coffee before our drive, the relative quiet of the autumn morning was interrupted by the intense alarm calls of some Vervet Monkeys in the drainage line in front of the lodge. Vervets will alarm call at the sight of leopards, snakes and birds of prey, the call for each predator being different. Our guide quickly confirmed… Leopard!
We gave coffee a skip and hopped onto the vehicle to see if we could locate what the monkeys had seen. Five minutes later, as we reached a T-junction and turned to the right, looking left, there he was. A male leopard casually making his way down the dirt road, flanked by tall grass on each side. This was Kunyuma, a young male leopard whose name means ‘shy’ in Shangaan. We turned and followed him as he scent marked here and there, before, staying true to his name, he slinked into some thick bush to escape us.
The adrenaline of that amazing sighting, just 100 meters from camp was exhilarating and, before it had worn off, a call came on the radio that a female leopard was located on a neighbouring property. We decided to take a gamble and try see if we could reach her before she disappeared… And we did. We found her as she investigated the surrounding bush, climbing a fallen tree and inquisitively smelling for signs of other leopards in the area. Her name was Thandi, a truly gorgeous leopardess, who we managed to take some incredible images of, before she too, disappeared.
Feeling extremely satisfied with our morning’s drive, we stopped for coffee before heading back to the lodge for breakfast. However, as we were to find out, our luck hadn’t ended. We made our way up a cutline close to the Gowrie Dam which the lodge overlooks and, as if out of nowhere, a massive male leopard appeared at the left side of the cutline. It was Mvula, the dominant male leopard from the area. He crossed right in front our vehicle and, to our amazement, a female leopard suddenly appeared just behind him. Her name is Kwatile, and the two must have been mating. We tried to follow them into the bush, but the vegetation was too thick so we headed instead to Gowrie Dam to see if they would come for a drink.
There we found Kwatile as she came into the open area around the dam and settled at its edge, drinking for 5 minutes and allowing plenty of time for us to shoot some amazing images. Mvula never appeared. We headed back to the lodge, a mere 5 minute drive to enjoy breakfast and discuss our incredible luck that morning. During the afternoon, we spotted a leopard from the lodge deck as it came down for a drink at Gowrie Dam but never had time or a long enough lens to get a shot for identification, perhaps one of the leopards from the morning? We would never know.
On our afternoon drive we headed straight to the dam to see if we could follow up on some tracks, but halfway there a call came on the radio that a male leopard was lying on a termite mound on the Djuma driveway. We quickly made our way back there, assuming it must be Mvula or Kunyuma. We were wrong… It was Quarantine, Kunyuma’s brother and son of Mvula, lying gracefully on the mound. We could not believe it, our fifth leopard sighting and fifth individual leopard in one day. Four of these sightings were less than 100 meters from Djuma, unbelievable!
I can’t explain how magical it is to experience a day like this in the bush, it genuinely changes you deep inside, you feel incredibly blessed.
Djuma instantly became a favourite destination and the venue we chose to host our Big Cat Photographic Safaris.
We will be returning again in May 2016 for 4 nights and August 2016 for 8 nights. Why not join us and experience the magic of an unbelievably special place in the Sabi Sands? Click here for more info.
(Images: Joshua McPhail)