Following the clues.
We had a report of a drag mark across the road, always interresting and worth following up on. We came across the drag line. An impala had been killed within the the last hour. The time now was 16h00. The drag mark was 10 to 15cm wide and across the width of the sand road .We could see there was a small pool of blood in the grass on the right hand side too...
The kill happened on the right hand side of the road, then it was dragged to the left, there is small trees there before it suddenly drops into a dry riverbed. It is a good place to hide, but who had launched the attack and why so early in the afternoon?
The drag mark had made the sand smooth and in it there was our first clue. The pug marks of a leopard. A female, her toes were more oval than round and her foot longer rather than square.
Cats will take any opportunity if it comes, there is always the chance that this impala was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Usually, with daylight on its side and in a group,impala stand a good chance of escaping. Leopards will rather save their energy till the scales tip in their favour, from the late afternoon when light starts casting long shadows and into the dark night - leopards will use their abilities to crawl and blend into their surroundings.
Our leopard didn't, she was hunting early.
Perhaps she was a smaller or younger leopard. One that was moving through this area, trying to avoid the larger leopards who have fought for this territory!She wouldn't want to run into them at night when they are around.
Maybe that was it. A young leopard.
We look again at the drag marks. There are two scrapes running parrallel to the drag mark. Perhaps from horns or hooves. The body must have been held high enough up to allow for either the horns or hooves to drag lines like this.This was not a small leopard. It was strong.
So a strong female leopard hunts during the day when she could hunt at night if she wanted.
We were about to find out why.
We drove around the bend , stopping at the river crossing - looking up along the sandy bed we could see 2 leopard cubs. The female was lying to their right - facing us. She was relaxed but watched us intently.She was keeping en eye out for her two while they were feeding on the impala.
They were the reason she was hunting earlier in the day.
Keeping a low profile with cubs is important to their safety and survival, rather kill and eat earlier then disappear and lay low during the busy night.
The following day we returned and found their tracks leaving the area.
We inspected their spoor, one cub is a female too. Her spoor shows the oval toes too, and how she leant back onto her hind-quarters to jump onto a dead tree.
The dead tree has signs too! Small scratch marks where she pulled herself up and steadied herself, with river sand from her feet transferred in between the scratches.
We can hear the buzzing flies. Then notice the dung beetles. They want the partially digested food that was inside the stomach. Nothing is wasted, food is food and we are going into winter. These dung beetles will diligently collect the dung, roll it, insert their larvae inside, then bury it. This will be food that will sustain the next generation of workers.
We check our own vehicle tracks from the day before, Hyaena have been here overnight. We note how their tracks go in both directions, backtracking up and down the road - narrowing the line of smell that would have led them to the impala; double-checking for danger should other predators still be in the area too.
The track on the left is the front foot, bigger and wider to carry the weight of the head and shoulders of this individual. There is a good example of the back foot in the middle of the picture, its narrower and here shows it was moving in the opposite direction.
We set up the Trails Camera hoping to see if it returned again that night...