The long grass of late summer is a dangerous place to be. By the time the darkness descends on the moonless night, an unsuspecting herd of impalas has become increasingly vulnerable to a silent attack from the Vomba 3:3 Young Female. At 2 and a half years, this young leopard’s lithe muscles quiver with excitement before she releases the tension and bolts forward. Her speed and surprise confuses the unsuspecting prey as she knocks the impala ewe down, quickly clasping at the neck to begin a rapid suffocation.
Hours later, she has removed the stomach and dragged the limp prey into a thicket. Later that day she feeds again and then prepares to hoists the half-eaten carcass into a Marula tree. Her small body heaves with determination when she slips and almost loses the prey, however she regroups and completes the hoist. As the late afternoon sun draws closer to the horizon she then turns and poses for the photographers in the most quintessential of bushveld moments.
Why is it that this leopard is seemingly more energetic than any other leopard of Londolozi? When we watched her kill an impala lamb at the beginning of the year we assumed she was developing at a better than normal rate, however our assumptions seem to underestimate her. Other leopards of 30 months might be bringing down hadedas and small duikers…not killing full grown impalas and then hoisting them up trees. Why is it that she does not walk with the slow studied esteem that is indicative of most leopards, but rather bounds with rampant restlessness? Something is driving her and we don’t know what it is…
At her age, most leopards move away from the natal care of their mother and step into an independent, nomadic existence for another 2 years. Yet it appears that the Vomba 3:3 Young Female is somewhat more evolved. Abandoned by her mother, the Vomba 3:2 Female, at 12 months, she has been forced to grow up quickly and now acts and with the confidence of a leopard 2 years her senior.
She seems to have staked out a territory for herself. With a large portion of river frontage it is surprising than an older leopard didn’t snap it up. Rather, she has taken ownership of it. No questions asked or punches pulled, she has established herself and now marks her boundaries in carefully constructed patrols.
An hour after sunset, the carcass is secured safely around the branch of the tree and the ranger’s spotlight flicks onto the 4 hyena’s who whimper below it. Nestled on another branch above, the Vomba 3:3 Young Female looks on. She is unfazed as she is aware that the remaining carcass, much like her territory, is hers for as long as she is able to keep it. If this encounter is anything to go by, we are optimistic that it is going to be for a very long time….