On the 50th anniversary of Botswana’s independence our celebrations had already included a wild dog hunt resulting in a hyaena-dog stand off, not to mention our game of dominoes with elephants over lunch.
So, as we headed out that evening, we were content to pass through the local village and enjoy the festivities of a football match and a few sundowners on the Khwai River.
The village population was out in full force, dressed in the national colours of blue, black and white. The local chief, or Kgosi, had put on a feast and everyone was gathering next to a large patch of bare earth that represented the football pitch.
We pulled the safari vehicle onto a small bank next to the pitch to watch the action before heading off to enjoy a cocktail and watch the sun go down.
As we pulled out of the village I checked in on the radio and got a call about something very special happening nearby.
Leopards are known for their elusiveness, able to hide in the smallest of shadows and disappear into nothing. They’re seen only when they want to be seen. That being said, we are very lucky to be able to observe leopards in Botswana in their natural habitat, as they are often habituated to the presence of the safari vehicle.
Mating leopards, on the other hand, are another story. Most guides will talk of only one or two sightings in an entire career of guiding. I had only heard leopards mating years before.
So, when I was called to join a friend of mine to witness two leopards in the open grass, mating in the evening light, I cannot express my feelings.
This was one trip where I was lucky enough to have my wife join me and thankfully she was able to calm my stammering and helped me get my camera gear together as we approached.
We watched the leopards lie in the grass, the female pressing the obviously tired male for even more action.
She rubbed up against him, growling softly until he would oblige. The entire exercise lasted just a few seconds, but, not ten minutes later, she would repeat her performance, pestering once again.
Knowing that this had been going on for over 36 hours, we did have sympathy for him and his exhaustion. But even that didn’t prepare us for what happened next.
A hyaena came upon the scene and walked right up to the prostrate male to sniff his tail – unsure if he was even alive, I guess – only to receive a quick swing towards his face that sent him off quickly in the other direction.
We stayed there until well after the light had faded, not wanting to disturb them with a spotlight, as the sounds alone were enough to keep us enthralled.
This was one of the most remarkable days that I have ever had on safari, and to have been able to share it with three great friends and my wife on the 50th anniversary of this country, is a memory that will stay with me for some time to come.