I believe nature is fair in its indiscrimination and I write this filled with both gratitude and sadness. Agitated squirrels alerted me to the scene of heartbreak, I scrolled the binoculars into focus and gazed upon a young leopard cub slumped over the tree branch. A gust of wind swirled around the vehicle forcing me to shut my eyes and withdraw back onto the drivers seat, forward facing, I sat for a while, partially in denial of the reality. ‘I’ll stay with you little one’, I calmly said to the lifeless animal. A want to understand led to one hypothesis, the cub had been killed by an invading male and he intended to consume his victim, the youngster had no visible wounds on its body, perhaps I had interrupted the grizzly venture. Once again staring through my windscreen I wondered if mom was aware yet, or if she was already in the midst of immeasurable torment. It was mid morning and I had around six and a half hours in hand before my inevitable departure, I wasn’t going anywhere. Regardless of the outcome this would be my tribute to a fallen beauty and its mother.
Sleep deprived, battling the harsh glare and weathered by the relentless wind, I remained, wallowing in emotional discomfort. As the hours rolled on I stayed focused on every sound, impalas distress called intermittently from the other side of the river bank, ‘Was the leopard on its way?’ Retz’s helmeted shrikes arrived and frantically dive bombed the carcass, unaware that this petite warrior’s journey had ended. Shortly after the avian insult, a pair of stag impalas hoofed forward to the tree and alarmed at the cub, occasionally turning their attention toward to me. I was bestowed with the gift of ‘resting bitch face’, as a friend of mine calls it, and these impalas witnessed some of my best work, ‘Just leave it alone’ I muttered to myself, the horned sirens obliged. With the cubs tail constantly swinging in the wind I imagined if mom was near by and pleading with her infants body to follow the tails lead.
It had been over five hours, I was exhausted but sensed a presence. I looked to the back of my vehicle and standing no more than a few metres from me was a leopardess. Donning a coat worn down by the years, a deeply notched right ear and a scarred face told this champions story, her chartreuse gaze captured my attention, she is magnificent! In an instant my awe turned to a sense of sad helplessness, there was pain in her expression. ‘Was this the cubs mother?’ and ‘Why didn’t she just avoid me?’ The leopardess moved slowly and without purpose toward the tree, she sat and stared at the cub, a sobering and sombre moment. After effortless ascent she leant over the cub, sniffing its back and licking its fur before clasping her jaws around the body and dropping the diminutive feline to the ground.
I sat in disbelief and observed the female pluck away fur and begin to feed, going through phases of short feeding followed by long and distant stares. As a nature enthusiast one would be hard pressed to find a more sorrowful incident. Regardless of the who or why, I was uneasy and it was time for me to leave.
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