Once upon a time leopards were everywhere. Even now they are not confined to the lowveld, but live in most rough or mountainous areas. The Drakensberg is no exception, although the general shortage of food means that leopards are few and far between. Being elusive and mainly nocturnal too means that they are rarely seen. However, one was seen near Sungubala in 2008, and signs around the Cavern suggest a resident individual. Footprints have been seen recently above the stables, and droppings just beyond the Fern Forest.

Now comes more dramatic evidence on our doorstep. On the pre-breakfast bird walk in March a half-eaten mountain reedbuck was found beside the pond just below the hotel. From the rib-cage down not a morsel remained except for a carefully pushed-aside stomach. The remains were fresh (and certainly would have been noticed if present the afternoon before). Half an hour later the evidence had been dragged to a hiding place under bushes nearby. Then by the afternoon it had disappeared altogether. Obviously its “owner” had been keeping a close watch throughout and didn’t want to share the spoils.

Of all the large carnivores the leopard is the one that adapts best to the human presence. It keeps almost entirely out of our way. Nearly always it takes wild prey, even though sheep and goats would be much easier. It’s just as though the leopard knows how to stay in favour. Attacks on people are virtually unknown. So when walking around the Cavern there is now the added excitement of knowing that somewhere in the hills our most famous predator might be watching. And it’s a lot less dangerous than driving around Jo’burg….

David Johnson

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