Our third day in South Luangwa was snake-less. We had a great morning drive – Billy took us to a more remote area of the park so we didn’t see another vehicle all morning. The drive was beautiful – we saw more elephants, giraffes, etc. One elephant in particular made his presence known – we stopped to watch him as he crossed the road and munched on some grass. Unbeknownst to us, another male elephant was behind the hedge and chased our elephant out and back onto the road. Our elephant was slightly annoyed – he flapped his ears and blew his trunk as he raced towards the vehicle. Billy tried to start up the car…to silence. It wouldn’t start. Sandy, sitting in the front seat jumped as the elephant got close. The car still wouldn’t start. This all happened in a few seconds, Sandy looking so scared we thought he was going to jump out of the car and start running. The elephant seemed felt confident that his actions conveyed to the aggressive elephant that while he would leave, he wasn’t happy about it. He wandered off down the road. Billy laughed off the incident, assuring us that we were never in any real danger while he restarted the vehicle. Soon we were off, laughing at Sandy from the safety of our much higher, less exposed seats in the back.
We took our tea by the riverbank. On the way back to camp we came across a giraffe who seemed more excited to see us than we were to see him. He got so close I thought he was going to climb into the back seat. Billy says giraffes are his favorite – they are graceful and peaceful. They also have really long eyelashes.
That afternoon we were able to rest peacefully, and after coffee, loaded back up into the safari vehicle.
We went back in the direction that we had traveled that morning, away from the other vehicles. Billy was feeling confident that we would see a leopard and we had confidence in Billy. The sunset was beautiful – we saw a single bull elephant walking through the trees in the distance at dusk – it looked like something out of a movie. A lone hyena also crossed our path, which is unusual in broad daylight. We enjoyed our sundowners by the river and watched the enormous orange sun dip below the horizon.
We headed back into the bush with our spotter up front illuminating the darkness with his spotlight. We were probably only in the truck for thirty minutes when he held the light still on a creature moving in the darkness. Calmly, Billy turned around and announced that we had found a leopard. We drove closer and watched as the surprisingly small, but vibrantly colored leopard stalked across the open area. We watched as he nonchalantly crouched down behind a rock and looked over at a herd of puku and impala. He was not bothered by us or the spotlight and focused instead on potential dinner. Billy explained that leopards are slow and meticulous – he might take two hours before he strikes. It would be better to go and see other things than wait for this leopard to make a strike. As he started up the vehicle, the leopard took advantage of the noise and crept forward a few yards. We waited and watched. Every time we started the car to leave, he moved closer to his prey. Eventually he was close enough to strike and managed to grab a young puku. It was almost instantaneous – we didn’t see the strike, but those of us in the back seat heard it.
I think seeing a kill on safari is something that you think would be awesome, but once you actually see the poor puku, you realize how brutal mother nature is. No matter how many animal planet shows you’ve seen, it’s different when you see it in real life.
It was interesting – most of the men in the vehicle were fascinated – couldn’t take their eyes off the leopard and his prey. Most of the women couldn’t look at it at all – willing Billy to start the vehicle and move along.
As much as I felt for the puku, I did realize that the leopard needs to eat too, and I still enjoyed my steak dinner that night.
On our drive home, really close to the camp, two elephants crossed the road right in front of the truck. It was a startling end to an amazing evening. The whole trip was amazing. South Luangwa is rich in wildlife, knowledgeable guides, and set in a gorgeous location. Being only six hours from Lilongwe, we hope to go back sometime.
Here is what we saw in the three days, thanks to Billy:
spotted bush snake