Leopard lovers and a rival at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge!

7th January at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge:
No guests today- they left with a packed lunch by 4 am – I sat on the deck after seeing them off and enjoyed this sunrise, a hippo swimming upriver towards me, you can see his wake in the centre of the photo….

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watching vervet monkeys waking and stretching in the trees below Chilo deck…little knowing what delights the unfolding morning would reveal!
At 6.30 am the monkeys warned me that something was up- busy in the lounge, I asked Bonani to look, telling her she might see a leopard!! I guess I was hopeful, they could have been chattering at a snake for all I knew…

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Leopard sketch by Lin Barrie


She reported back with great excitement….. not one but two leopards!

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Clever Bonani! Peering across the wide expanse of the Save River, I was able to carefully focus my little camera on the two ….hence the fuzzy photos, but at least this gives a feeling of the lovely, graceful animals….A pair of slinky cats, one darker spotted with a white white belly and another gorgeous tawny pale cat.

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Patrolling the far bank, they were obviously very thirsty for water but hesitant to approach the crocodile infested depths! Panting, they kept lying down, then moving again…

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Between gardening and odd jobs, we all kept getting distracted by the gorgeous animals, who stayed on the far bank all morning. The female often moved, to lie close to the male…

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She reclined as he gently bit at her neck…..

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This was a couple in love! They both rolled in the dewy green grass, then got up to stretch, peering hard at the water, before creeping cautiously down the bank through the datura flowers, deciding to risk the crocodilians lurking for a long awaited sip of water….

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The dark spotted female had a quick sip at the edge of the Save but the male was too cautious… we caught him staring up at us and snarling, obviously very aware of our distant presence …

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Clive estimated that the dark female was an older animal, experienced, and the male a youngster, his massive tawny head showing sign of great promise once he reached more mature years…

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Work had to be done, emails and gardening calling me- but I admit that I did keep peeping across the river -the amorous couple drew me like a magnet, the interaction between these normally nocturnal and oh-so-secretive kittys entranced me! He kept walking up behind her and hooking playfully at her ankles with his gigantic forepaw….

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Eventually stepping over her, he led the way and they retired into deeper cover,

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She followed him through the datura flowers…

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and into deep shade, as the day warmed up….

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She stared up into the cool of the vine-twisted tree canopy as if planning a bed up there,

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They were thirsty (I wonder why 😏!) and so although they then disappeared into the thick undergrowth, I knew they would be back! The Chilo deck was deserted, no guests or loud noises, so, although sad that we could not share this special sighting with guests, at least the leopards would have a chance to become relaxed with our quiet movements as we watched them.
Yay! Cubs could arrive in three months time, and maybe Mum and Dad will become more and more relaxed with us, like our elephants now are!

8th January …..Wonderful!

I was, of course, eagerly watching from the Chilo deck, and at 6.30am there they were again….
The dark female a young animal; slim, muscled body and small head. A gorgeous, very “white” cat…her spots  jet black against a very white background, not much gold colour to her.
I first saw her lying down in long grass early this morning, while the large pale male seemed to keep guard, sitting alert a few meters from her recumbent body.

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he kept a close eye on her…

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7.45 am:
Reclining together in deep green grass and white datura flowers-she rolled her head back and bit gently at his rump, then as he sat up and moved away slightly she rolled sideways in the datura flowers and stretched a forepaw to pat his rump!
He turned to rub his head over hers and started licking and grooming her ears, then pinned her down with a forepaw as he licked his way down her neck and over her shoulders. Predictably, her eyes were closed in bliss….
He got up after half an hour and strolled up the bank to drop down ten meters away from her, still in the deep shade of the trees. She craned her neck to follow his every movement….
8.29 am:
The female got up and gently approached the alert male, sitting close then dropping her head onto his stretched hindlegs, one forepaw extended to make contact with his belly. They lay together, panting in the growing heat.
By 8.45 the decreasing shade encouraged them to move deeper under the trees, she leading the way and staring up into the thick Capparis vine-covered canopy, as if again looking for an aerial bed..or maybe thats just natural, to peer upwards and check for what might be in the trees above you…especially if you are a tree-loving cat!
He lay down as she diverted her attention to the river, creeping cautiously through the white datura flowers towards the edge of the water.
When she sat up to peer at the water, wreathed in vegetation, she was a Frida Khalo portrait, framed by green leaves and white flowers, her solid black necklace glowing on her throat.
She thought better of drinking, much as she seemed to want to…the day was already dripping hot…going to lie near her mate, as he re-arranged his position, standing to stretch languorously, forepaws extended white and soft against the red earth. The vervet monkeys on my bank gave quiet hiccups of consternation. Didn’t they understand that great swathes of deep dangerous water separate them from their dreaded enemies?!
At 11 am, one leopard was sitting right at the base of the vine-clad trees
Where was the other… up the tree?

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After lunch the lover-cats were not visible to me, but instead, in strolled two carefully casual mature male baboons, to squat under the very same trees that sheltered the cats hours before!
Intriguing, did these two “scouts” come to shoo the predators away? No sign of the cats or the rest of the normally vociferous baboon troop…and the two male dogs sat under the trees very obviously for a few hours.
Alerted by the barking of the two baboons, who soon made off up the bank and disappeared among the tumbled rocks. Hopefully we kept peering into the undergrowth, and shortly thereafter were rewarded for our patience…

IMG_7992lo res.jpg….along came a leopard, through the steep rocks and dense vegetation, to lie on the bank above the river.  At first Clive and I assumed it was the young pale male but we looked closer when Sam told us that he had earlier spotted the pair of lover-cats making their way further downstream, past the steep rock outcrops opposite the Chilo breakfast deck and toward the Parks Entrance…This was a new arrival!

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A big, older tawny male, scars faintly visible on his massive head, one slight scarred left eye, and very different in attitude to the younger male.Cooler, more relaxed, he paced the bank, squatting and marking territory repeatedly, almost seeming to follow the scent of where the female had been that morning.

IMG_8043 lo res.jpgWas this his own claimed territory? He was extremely thirsty, sitting staring longingly at the water from various vantage points,

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desperate to drink, but agonizingly cautious…

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and in between marking his territory at many points along the bank

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he approached the water yet again,  cautiously making his way down the steep bank for his first sip in the murky water of an elephant footprint in the mud, scared by every splash and ripple in the deep river.

IMG_8100 lo res.jpgVery  conscious of us watching him, a half snarl played on his lips as he occasionally looked up at us, warning us to keep our distance…or was he half- snarling at the many crocodiles that he knew were watching?

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After that first drink, he seemed to gain confidence, moving downstream

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marking territory…

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and boldly traversing the rocky outcrop over which the two lovers had departed earlier.

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IMG_8128 lo res.jpgThis was clean water, straight out of the fast flowing river, and I could almost hear the satisfied lapping sound of his long pink tongue as he drank of it deeply.

IMG_8139 lo res.jpgMy heart was in my mouth… he would have been easy meat for an ambitious crocodile, exposed as he was on the rocks, and immersed in the pleasure of drinking… I held my breath each time he approached the water and drank.

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he marked territory again…

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The last view we had of him he was continuing downstream, past a dismayed waterbuck who snorted at his passing in the undergrowth and then dashed for safety, and seemingly following the two lover-cats……
What would happen if and when they met? An eviction, a battle, a death?
yesterday was a cover day, with winds and rain by lunch time, no sign of the cats…

About wineandwilddogs

Lin Barrie The Save Valley Conservancy stretches along the upper reaches of the great Save River in the south east of Zimbabwe. The Gonarezhou National Park laps against the southern banks of the Save River and between these two nestles the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve. These three celebrated wildlife areas form part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area, (GLTFCA)- a unique wilderness jewel which is home to the “Big Five” (endangered Black and White rhinos, elephants, buffalo, lion, leopard) and the ”Little Six” (Klipspringer, Suni, Duiker, Steenbok, Sharpe's Grysbok and Oribi). Endangered African wild dogs, Cheetah, Brown hyena, Bat-eared foxes and a host of special birds and plants contribute to the immense variety of this ecosystem. Communities around the GLTFCA contribute to innovative partnerships with National Parks and the private sector, forming a sound base on which to manage social, economic and environmental issues. This is home to artist and writer Lin Barrie and her life partner, conservationist Clive Stockil. Expressing her hopes, fears and love for this special ecosystem with oil paints on canvas, Lin Barrie believes that the essence of a landscape, person or animal, can only truly be captured by direct observation. Lin Barrie states: “Through my art, and my writing, I feel an intimate connection with the natural world, and from my extensive field sketches of wild animals, people and landscapes, I create larger works on canvas. Lin's work is in various public and private collections in South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Australia, England, Canada, Sweden and the United States of America. She is represented by galleries in South Africa, Zimbabwe, England, Kenya and Florida, USA.
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3 Responses to Leopard lovers and a rival at Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge!

  1. Jeremy Borg says:

    What wonderful sightings. How lively

  2. Susan Ingram says:

    Fabulous sighting! I do hope you keep us informed as to what the next actions are? a battle between young and old? babies?

    When we were sitting for 4 hours fixing the landrover after our ill-fated river crossing, I keep looking into those wonderful riverine trees and wondering…. Such a memorable Xmas at Chilo and I keep meaning to send a message to say your gardens are spectacular!!! The hotel looked in prime condition and the self catering has our name on it for more and more visits to come!

    We missed seeing you of course, but I hope you enjoyed family time and your wonderful home?

    See you soon I hope. Lots love

    Sue (Ingram) Fenwick ingram.sue@gmail.com Mobile: +263 77 940 8557 Whatsapp: +27(0)82 373 0958 Skype phone: +27 011 083 7208 Skype: sue.ingram2 “Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is a mystery. And Today? Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.”


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