The trials and tribulations of an afternoon game drive
By Nick Manion

An integral part of afternoon tea before a game drive is establishing what everyone is hoping to see and where we would go on our drive. The sounds of iced coffee and lemonade being poured into glasses accompanied our discussion at Uplands Homestead and the final consensus with our guests was that lions, hippos, and leopard would be our focus for the afternoon.

We decided that lions were the first animals we were going to search for. Some had been seen earlier on a morning game drive and knowing that they had been on a kill, we thought our chances of finding them lying in the shade digesting their meal were pretty good.


Nothing is ever a certainty out here, however, and on reaching the area it was clear that they had moved off. Sihle and I went out on foot in the hopes of finding tracks to give us an idea of which direction they had moved off in, but there was not a trace. We scoured the surrounding area and ventured to nearby water holes to see if they had gone to quench their thirst after finishing the kill, but they had simply disappeared.

Feeling slightly defeated, we turned our attention to hippo and leopard, and with the sunset soon approaching we decided to head towards Galpin Dam for a chance of finding hippos and took a bit of a detour towards the dam, going via Mbila Cliffs which is excellent leopard country.

We drove along beneath these incredible cliffs, looking up to where a troop of baboons was scampering up onto the many ledges for the evening, displaying their amazing agility as they climbed the cliff face and reminding us of what a leopard is also cable of. As they settled, one baboon sounded off a booming alarm call, and with that the entire bush erupted! Vervet monkeys also started calling frantically, birds were chirping in agitation…the bush was telling us that there was danger close by.


We explained to our guests that all this chaos was due to a predator, which predator we didn’t know yet, but we were all hoping it was a leopard! We moved to a vantage point to have a better look around as alarm calls echoed off the cliffs but couldn’t see anything yet. Further down the road, we got closer to where the monkeys were calling, but their alarm calls were starting to fade away. Sihle suddenly turned his head as he noticed something and then erupted with excitement “Leopard!”.


Only her head was visible initially as she peered over a small rise and at first not everyone saw her until she walked out over the rise to a chorus of gasps from the rows of seats behind me! It was the Inkenkewzi female, the Fort Dam female’s daughter, and with the sun setting behind us we could not have asked for a better moment.


She walked out along the dam wall, passing within a mere few feet of where we sat completely enthralled as she allowed us into her world for a while. She was sniffing almost constantly as she moved to the point that she was also salivating as she did, stopping frequently to further investigate scents that to us were non-existent. Was it another leopard whose smell she was investigating? That seemed likely given how intently she was sniffing everywhere, but we could only guess as the messages she was getting were information we were not privy to. For almost an hour we had the privilege of following her as she went about her business, ironically leading us across to the other side of the dam where a raft of hippo lay in the shallows awaiting the darkness to begin their nights foraging!


Eventually, as the light faded, she slunk off into the shadows like a ghost, melting away even more suddenly than she had appeared. From defeat to victory, how our fortunes had changed on this afternoon’s game drive! Our plan from there was a simple one…it was time to head back to the lodge to celebrate with a drink around the fire!