In July 2008 I was guiding a group out of Tubu Tree camp, in the Okavango. On a morning game drive, we saw a hyena crossing a deep channel. The hyena was carrying an impala carcass. Seconds after it had crossed the water a leopard emerged from the trees behind. A moment later, another leopard joined the first one. The two leopards, a sub-adult male and female, had just lost their food to the hyena. There was no sign of the adult female leopard who was the mother of the two.
The leopards wanted to cross the channel. During the dry season, the channel was actually our game drive road, but in winter, during the flood season, the road became a metre-deep mini river. I tried to drive around to a place from where we could see the two leopards when they crossed but thick bushes blocked our view, and every turn I tried ended the same way. After twenty frantic minutes of trying, I came to the conclusion that there was only one chance, and that was to drive on the submerged road. The leopards were still sitting on the bank, making up their minds. As I turned the vehicle in their direction, the young male tensed his muscles, then leaped across in one bound, and kept going.
The female was about to follow, so I crossed my fingers, and nosed the Landrover into the water. At first, all was fine, and we were about to round a bend that would allow us a clear view of the last leopard. Next moment the front end of the vehicle tipped into a hole, and we came to a halt. Water rose up around my legs, and to the base of the seat. The leopard was hidden from us by one small tree. As we sat there coming to terms with our predicament, the leopard jumped. She landed in the water, and all I got was a far-off picture of her descent. I spent the next half-hour wading about in freezing cold water attempting to get the car unstuck, and feeling rather embarrassed. .
Well, a year and a half later, I was once again visiting Tubu Tree camp, on another safari. The two young leopards from 2008 had grown up, and left.
The same adult female was still at Tubu, and again she had two cubs, a male and a female. On our last morning drive, we followed her as she searched for the cubs. Blood on her fur meant that she had killed something, and was intending to take the cubs to the carcass. Eventually her contact calls finally caught the attention of the youngsters, and after a joyful reunion, she set off with them. We lost sight of them when they moved into some thick bush, so I drove around the wooded area, searching. When we caught sight of the cats again I realized that they had stopped at the edge of a channel. Hastily, but taking no chances this time, we crossed over the channel where the water was shallow. As our vehicle came to a halt the female leopard catapulted herself across the channel. Seconds later her female cub followed. The male cub hesitated, moved along the channel towards us, and then hurled himself into the air and over the water.
For the rest of the day I couldn’t stop shaking my head in wonder at the grace and power of the cats, and the fact that I had been lucky enough to see it not once, but twice!
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