“Pause — listen, smell, taste, feel & see. We trust you will never forget this experience. Welcome to Singita Ebony”
That was the handwritten welcome laying on our fireplace mantle when we first got to our villa at the hotel. And that just minutes after landing AND at least 5-6 different people had introduced themselves, greeted us, asked about food preferences, met with our personal butler, the sommelier, and had a quick tour of the main lodge and premises. The advise was well taken, and there are many reasons why we will never forget our three nights and days at Singita. While the loads of photos might suggest we did nothing but hold and click a camera or two or three for that matter… we actually spent some 95+% of the time just observing the animals, listened to their unique calls of anguish or their equivalent of laughter and joy, we ate everything to our hearts content, we experienced things we have never before imagined, nor hope to repeat. We had binoculars for each of us if the game was a distance away, our guides had the luxury of taking us off-road and as close as possible whenever it made sense. There is nothing as jarring to the senses as hearing a predator devour an impala and listen to the crunch of soft young bones in the powerful jaws that could easily silence any of the wacky tourists in the nearby Land Rover. So while my posts might convey that the the 18,000+ hectares of the PRIVATE game reserve around Singita is chock full of animals that one might see on command like at a zoo, I need to emphasize that the experience is more akin to a leisurely drive for up to 3 hours on dirt roads, stopping when something interesting is spotted, or just watching some animals as they do their business of eating, pooping, sleeping, playing, fighting, mating or being eaten themselves. You could go hours without sighting any big game animals, and there are days or weeks where they have all headed to neighboring reserves. You really can’t do anything about it. And it is this uncertainty that also makes discovery so fascinating and awe-inspiring. I have chosen to feature our finds by animal, but will try to convey how the drives were actually conducted as well.
After a quick shower and light lunch, we headed out on our first game drive at roughly 330pm. We drove for say 5-10 minutes, before our tracker and driver passed a spot where they thought they spotted fresh leopard tracks. They parked the rover, got off and walked back down the road till out of sight. Seriously? My first thought was “are you kidding me?” I felt like potential hunks of meat on a grocery shelf for any hungry leopards around. Of course that was a bit irrational, and I am sure it was quite safe, but if you want to second guess, look up tourists killed on safari and realize these are WILD ANIMALS. Singita has a fabulous safety record, but that’s not the case at all camps and you have to be cautious, period. Seconds later, the guide and tracker returned, confirmed they were fresh tracks, and Louis, the tracker, decided to trace steps in the bush on his own, armed with a rifle. We saw him load the bullets. They were impressive.
We then drove around for say an hour, saw lots of antelopes like bush bucks, nyalas, impalas as well as a mongoose and about 1.5 hours later, started to get into the groove of the drives, but still hadn’t seen anything “major”. It was totally enjoyable, however. Radio contact with Louis brought news he had given up on following the leopard tracks and we passed by to pick him up as the sun started to near the horizon. I thought we would be heading back to the lodge for some drinks but they turned the jeep around a curve, came to a quick stop as he pointed to the top of bluff or large rock. A nearly simultaneous inaudible gasp as we spied a female leopard and before that delight could subside, two of the cutest leopard cubs made an appearance, pausing briefly to look in our direction. It was a scene out of a National Geographic special. But we were there, and just 10-15 meters away.
We watched from a distance and the leopard seemed to make sure we were not threatening her young and she settled down and from somewhere on the stone…
…pulled out a 3-4 kilo hunk of freshly killed young female nyala or antelope. One of cubs disappeared into hiding, but the other one took some of his probably first bites of raw meat (who knows, perhaps he had been feeding ravenously for weeks, but he or she was just too small and too cute for words).
I particularly like this shot of Mama licking her lips. If I happened to be strolling by alone I would have been scared shitless.
Mama leopard held on to the piece of antelope with one paw, while the cub pulled and tugged. This first encounter with leopards brought our first drive to an exciting conclusion.
After their meaty dinner, Mama leopard gave us this final stance to let us know who was boss and we backed away, delighted. We then went off to a small clearing just as the sun set, and Sipho and Louis took out some champagne (sparkling wine) and laid out a selection of nibbles that included nuts, chips, etc. Then we headed back to the lodge for our first supper in residence.
The next morning, at the end of a very successful drive, we were headed back to our villa and turned a corner to this amazing sight. The father of the cubs the night before was strolling on one of the dirt roads, deliberately marking the perimeter of his territory with his scent. Oblivious to the Rovers and the excited tourists on board, he went about his business like we didn’t exist. But trust me, he knew we were there. He raised his tail, exposed his (sorry, I can’t help but notice and mention) fuzzy apricot colored balls and sprayed his scent on the roadside bushes!
He walked up to a signpost indicating the turnoff for Singita Boulders (a few minutes from our camp), paused and looked up as if to say “hmmm, should I go right to the villas or left instead?”…
…and he continued onwards. Notice his beautiful fur. I think this encounter cemented the fact that leopards are now my favorite wild animal. And I’m a Leo. :)
Just look at this guy?! Wow!
Quiet confidence backed up by the ability to tear you apart if he felt like it.
Even with his eyes shut he looked utterly stunning.
And I included this close-up as he passed our Rover for those of you with sharp eyesight. Because you can probably pick out the fat garapatas (engorged ticks) around his neck area which aren’t so easy for him to reach.
And just when you thought how lucky you were to see leopards two days in a row (Singita is actually renown for its leopards), take a good look at what our guides showed us on the third day of our stay… Mama leopard from up top had made a kill of a young male impala and brought it up 30-40 feet in the air up a tree…
…where she could feed on it peacefully, while two or three hyenas waited at ground level for any scraps to fall!
We stayed to watch this scene for at least 30-40 minutes, and it was utterly mesmerizing.
Apparently she will eat a bit until sated, lick off her paws and clean up, make sure the impala is securely positioned, then she will return to eat some more, for up to 2-3 days. With nighttime temperatures at say 10C, the carcass remains edible for that long. And it is safe from other predators (though I suspect monkeys and other creatures COULD get to the hanging beast).
We watched as she came down the tree in an incredibly graceful and controlled manner.