Over the last few days I described our experiences at the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park when we visited the area this October. Although I still have one post pending as it will probably be published somewhere else, I have one more, perhaps the last, story about this trip.
As I told you earlier we camped at the Lesholoago pan campsite during the 18 and 19 October 2017 and there was great fun both days. It is always exciting to camp in non-fenced areas and Mabuasehube strongly reminded us of our “wilder” camping days in Kenya and some of the more recent camping experiences in Zimbabwe (Mana Pools and Hwange). There is nothing that compares to a night under canvas in the proximity of wild animals.
I always think of a safari as a visit to an area that gives you a snapshot of it and then you go away. However, the animals that tolerated you remain there and life goes on! At Lesholoago we entered the territory of a few mammals including Ground Squirrels and Yellow Mongooses. At first I thought we were responsible for the two species mixing and expected some confrontation. As this did not take place, I realized that they coexisted, respecting each other.
Although the squirrels kept their distance, the Yellow mongooses would be moving about camp apparently oblivious to our presence. They would dart in and out and feed on any scraps they found but never showed any inclination of raiding our food supplies or trying to steal from our plates the way other creatures do. In the evenings we saw the arrival of Black-backed Jackals that watched us from a distance.
Things started to get interesting after we had showered in the evening of the 18th. My wife was the last to shower and soon after twilight gave way to darkness, as there was no moon to speak of. At that stage Lola -who had a knack for spotting action- pointed out some eyes just behind the shower area that also happened to be behind their car-tent. A rather cursory look (by me) revealed that the eyes belonged to one of the visiting jackals so I dismissed it and headed back to my evening duties that, at the time, were rather complex: sitting down, talking and having a glass of wine!
However, before I reached my chair I heard a loud and alarming shout unquestionably originating from Lola: ” Fraaaannnnkkk, look, there is a leopard just here!” She was pointing to the area where I had made the diagnosis of “jackal eyes, do not worry” a few seconds earlier! Although I imagine that Frank went to Lola’s rescue, I reacted sluggishly (no, it was not the wine) and I was the only one that did not see the cat! However, I did recover fast by getting into the car to follow it.
As I drove towards the area, the leopard’s derriere was seen wobbling away for a few seconds before disappearing into the thicket where we lost sight of it. Although we drove around the area where it had disappeared, we failed to get another sighting. Clearly it just had to crouch to become invisible. We continued our exploration and drove to the pan’s water hole, located about a km away on the other “shore’ of the pan. Although we saw lots of Springhares and Bat-eared Foxes, the leopard was not at the water. To compensate, we had a very nice view of a Barn owl at the water’s edge.
Back at camp later, the unexpected leopard visit gave us a topic of conversation (not that we needed another one!) that lasted well after dinner and delayed our usual early night. We could not ascertain why the animal decided to come within a few metres of us, as normally leopards are very secretive and reserved . We went to bed later than usual, still thinking about our amazing encounter and hoping that the animal had walked in front of our camera trap so that we could have proof of its presence.
The first thing we did the following morning -even before breakfast- was to follow the “leopard walk” to check its pawmarks in the sand and to retrieve the card from the camera trap to check for images. Success was partial. We did find the footprints but also realized that my camera placement had been -to put it mildly- rather inadequate. The leopard had walked too near the camera that only managed to register its over-exposed silhouette in the first camera burst, followed by a flash of light in the second. The latter was of us in the car looking for it. Luckily, this second burst had one shot where the leopard’s spots can be “spotted”, albeit poorly.
The following day, inspired by our night visitor, we decided to spend the morning driving around in search of game, focusing on the various pans in the neighbourhood. We did not find large predators but enjoyed the time spent at the water holes, mainly bird watching.
We came back to camp in late morning and as soon as we arrived another visitor arrived, this time a human! It was a German camper that came to -curiously- ask for a glass of water! Although we offered him more of our precious resource, he only took one glass while asking us whether we had seen lions as -according to him- they were coming our way. We exchanged some information on the area and soon he was gone after telling us that he would be at Camp 1, just on the other shore of the pan, close to the watering hole.
Some discussion ensued about the reason for his visit as some of us -me included- thought that there was an “ulterior motive”!  As it was rather hot after lunch, my usually solitary siesta this time featured the company of most of the others. It was a good strategic move to wait for the day to cool of.
After the rest, I decided to improve the placement of the camera in case of a very unlikely second leopard visit! This time I convinced myself that I had done a good job. I was now free to spend time watching the constant stream of small birds to the water. Soon however, the Yellow mongooses started to behave differently and attracted my attention.
They were all standing on their hind legs and looking fixedly at a point near our toilet while uttering their calls. My first thought was that someone was using the toilet but soon I realized that something more serious was happening as they persisted and became increasingly agitated, so I decided to have a look. For a while I saw nothing and then I realized that something was moving in the tall dry grass. I realized that it was a young adult lion and I shouted “Lion!” to alert the group.
It was looking at us from behind our toilet and finally I understood the reason behind the small windows placed lower down on the toilet walls. They are there to allow you to see what is outside before you come out!
My wife immediately came to have a look and joined me taking pictures and keeping a watch on the cat. It was soon clear that, although it had us “covered” we were not its target but rather the water hole at the other end of the pan. At no time did it attempt to come our way and only gave us a couple of cursory looks before showing its derriere and continue its walk towards the pan.
While these events unfolded, Lola and Frank went AWOL. Suddenly from the corner of my eye I caught movement behind us and I saw them. Lola was inside the car and Frank was standing on the ladder leading to their roof tent. Although they claimed that they were searching for their cameras to immortalize the lion visit, I believe that they were actually moving away from the lion exercising great prudence and speed! 
The lion passed by us a few metres away and walked on towards the pan escorted at a distance by a solitary Black-backed jackal that was clearly hoping for a kill to enjoy the spoils. We followed the lion’s trajectory from the camp while it crossed the pan. We then drove towards the water hole and watched it drinking. It drank for a long time and it was dark by the time it filled its belly. It then walked in the direction of Camp 1 where our German camping acquaintance was very excited to see it and ready with his various spotlights.
We decided to leave him to enjoy the cat’s visit as it was time to go back to our camp and have dinner. Our return was further delayed by another unexpected find. A yellowish lump at the water hole became a crouching caracal drinking! For us this was a great find as a caracal in the wild is a rare sight. We watched this beautiful and elusive cat for a few minutes until, its thirst satiated, it moved off and went into the darkness. It was an unforgettable sight and we almost forgot all about the lion!
Despite the excitement and the long post-dinner talk, we slept soundly. The following morning I collected the camera trap but, as we were leaving, I had no time to look at it until later. However, the location of the lion’s pawmarks gave me confidence that I had caught the lion on camera.
It was only later in Harare that I had sufficient time to examine the camera trap pictures and I was happy to see that it had registered the lion.
What I did not expect was that we had also caught the lion on camera when it returned late during the night while we were sleeping! Of course we did not hear it at all and Lola and Frank will only know that this happened when they read these lines (if they do!).
 Later I saw a leopard “exploring” another campsite so these visits may not be as rare as initially thought? See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zZZFHc0YmU
 We believe that he wished to find out for how long we would be staying at Campsite No. 2 as he was in Campsite No. 1 and preferred ours!
 In the absence of any pictures of the event taking by neither Lola nor Frank, I am still unconvinced!