On our third day at Sabi Sabi, we had barely finished our coffee when we were greeted by a spotted hyena, a slimy scavenger that makes one’s blood curdle. Ironically, we ended our evening by finding another hyena snooping around our back yard in the dark.
In the interim, we were treated to an abundance of blessings. We found the cheetah again that morning.
And to our delight, he was hungry.
He jumped up on a long fallen tree and peered for several minutes across miles of horizon trying to catch a glimpse of some potential prey.
We had just passed a herd of impala and knew they were to the west, but the cheetah peered to the east for at least five minutes.
We held our breath hoping he would turn to the west, and eventually he did. He must have seen the impala in the distance, because he hopped off the log and slinked through the long golden grass. We followed at a respectful distance, with blood pressure rising in anticipation of a sprint and a kill. And boom! The cheetah took off faster than Usain Bolt out of the blocks. But then, instead of pursuing the impala, he got distracted by a jackal in the weeds. He pounced on the jackal - an inedible obstacle that must have simply annoyed the cheetah - but the jackal fought back. The jackal escaped and the cheetah was left exhausted. The cheetah’s workout lasted 15 seconds at best. But he was spent and passed out panting in the grass, a kill just missed.
We moved on to catch a lone zebra, which usually roam in herds that had recently been decimated by the 18-member lion pride, hanging out in the distance.
Later in the day we saw the same zebra trying to blend in with a large contingent of impala, which twitched with the wind and ran zigzags in multiple directions. Apparently they were suffering anxiety from having been chased by the cheetah. The zebra’s efforts to make friends were a sight to behold, as he stuck out like a sore thumb.
We also came across the warthog from the previous day. But today the warthog had only one baby instead of two. Joe noted that a leopard probably dined on the baby sometime during the night. Poor thing.
On our final evening drive, we had our best luck of the trip. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the infamous Sabi Sabi lions, which had moved across Sabi’s borders into Kruger in search of food and in response to a territorial dispute among some large ornery males.
But we did find two leopards in mating games, an extremely rare find. We had heard them early in the day but they were hidden deep in an unnavigable river bed, so we resolved to come back for another try during the evening. We were well rewarded for our patience.
When leopards mate, they do so at a bewildering pace unimaginable to humans. Once every 5 minutes for 2-3 days at a time. Not a typo. But something weird happened with the leopards we found. The female was particularly eager because she was around 15 years old and on her last chance to have another litter. The male, on the other hand, was only about three years old, inexperienced, and on his first rodeo. So while he mated with her in the morning, he became disinterested and tired throughout the day. This did NOT sit well with the female, and she let her displeasure known with loud, rolling, desperate grumbling. She repeatedly approached him, and he finally became so distressed that he lashed out with bone-chilling roars and a dangerous paw swipe that would have mortally wounded the female had she not dropped to her side just before the blow found her flesh.
Eventually the male tired of the river bed and the begging, and he hopped up the hill into long grass. “She pursued and he withdrew, and so they danced.” [Kramer]. We sat just feet away in the Land Rover, but only rarely could we see them. Instead, we listened to them quarrel back and forth with deep belly growls and high-throated howls, catching the occasional glimpse through rustling grass. We watched the African sun blaze endless yellow pink purple and red as it dropped below an endless horizon with leopards as the soundtrack to the show.
This tango continued for hours into the night, with the young male’s escape moves making the female even more determined. Eventually we left them to their own devices, but we heard later that the game continued for at least another day. That night it hit us with the power of a tropical storm: we were in love with Africa.