Our on the ground Pro Guide, Julian Brookstein, sends us news from within Hwange National Park
The wet season has arrived here in Hwange and the dust has finally settled. There were a lot of bush fires during the dry period that moved through the park this year however fire is not always a bad thing. It clears out the dense undergrowth and allows new fresh grass to sprout. This is currently what is happening all over Hwange and, in particular, our area as we had fire advance to within a few kilometers of the camp. Thankfully we were able to fight it back and it did posed no danger. What it does mean is that even though the bush is thick again, full with new leaf, the visibility is decent as the grass is low and green.
Halfway between camp and Masuma there is a band of Granite outcrops that run through the park for many a kilometer. It has always been one of my favorite areas as you can climb up the granite outcrops and have an amazing view over a great deal of the park. It also forms a “leopard hotspot”, as they love the sanctity of the rocks.
I was out on a drive, a couple mornings ago, heading from camp towards Masuma dam. I always slow right down when driving through this area for the “hotspot” reason. As we approached the beginning of the rocks I could see a breeding herd of elephants crossing the road ahead. I rolled to a stop and watched them make there way in front of us. There was a particularly small baby elephant at the back of the group that my guests and I were concentrating on as everyone loves a baby ele! As this little elephant passed the front of the vehicle and carried on down the path my eyes followed him. Then I saw it! Lying in the gap between a fallen tree. Leopard!
I quickly turned to my guests and told them to be very calm and not to move fast when I pointed out what I was seeing. There is no shortage of leopards in Hwange but they are generally quite shy. My thinking was that as soon as this cat realises everyone is focusing on it it was going to bolt. After a couple seconds of getting everyone to see the cat, it just sat there and stared at us. I told my guests to lift their binoculars and cameras very slowly and not to make any sudden movements. The cat just sat there and wasn’t to bothered with us. Suddenly it surprised us all by getting up and walking slowly straight towards the vehicle! I then noticed that it was a young male.
The majority of the better sightings I have had in Hwange, through the years, of Leopard have been young males. It seems when they are at the dispersal age they are much braver and only switch to “stealth mode” with age. This cat was exactly at that dispersal age.
He walked up to the car, stopped about five meters away, and just continued to peer into the vehicle for about a minute before casually walking towards the edge of the road and into the bush. I started the car and moved forward to get a better view of him walking away but as soon as we moved forward the Leopard quickly turned around and trotted straight towards us! He then stopped at the edge of the road and looked at us once more. He kept moving along the road parallel to us and every time I started the car to move forward he would trot back to the car. By this time I was sure my guests were wondering why I told them to all be so still and not to make any sudden movements!
We spent the next hour with this incredible sighting before leaving him lying next to the road.
Always slow down and look carefully when passing through the granite outcrops!
Julian Brookstein is a Professional Safari Guide and manager of a premium bush camp within the magnificent Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Julian's infinite knowledge of the African bush, it's wildlife and everything around it ranks him as one of the best you get in the industry.
Follow Julian on Instagram