It is funny the things you think of late at night. Some think of work in the morning, others of bills to pay. Some might recall a funny story they heard over morning coffee or a to-do list that is nagging them. Recently I have been wondering what this particular leopard in the wilds of Northern Mozambique might be up to, the trails he might be walking and the prey he might be stalking. I imagine him softly padding down the dry Lucinge river, or sitting atop the inselbergs at Capua. You see this is a leopard that I had feed on two separate safaris this year, and on both safaris, circumstances prevented us from meeting. On the first hunt he dined on a leg of zebra I secured in a beautiful Sausage tree. The set up was perfect, almost 'Hemingway-esque' in its design. A perfect silhouette and a horizontal branch overhanging a rough bush two-track snaking through the thick riverine where two dry rivers converged. The day we checked the bait and made the thrilling discovery that he had fed, was also the day we found another, older cat feeding on one of our other baits. The choice was hard, but oh so pleasant a predicament to be in. Two lovely daylight feeders, and mature Toms to boot. In the end we chose the older cat, because that is what we do as responsible and ethical hunters. Our decision and hard work was rewarded that night with an eight year old Tom, with worn and busted canines, scarred face and 7 foot of elegant spotted beauty. I was thankful for the privilege of such a lovely leopard, but I knew which animal I was to target on the next upcoming safari.
And target him I did. But he never returned to the Sausage tree and the impala and bushbuck combo I had dangling in his former dinner spot. Instead, as luck would have it, we had another lovely and rather ravenous leopard feed on a distant bait in a Tamarind tree. As any professional knows, you don’t turn down that kind of opportunity. By 7 o’clock that evening we had sealed the deal with the Tamarind tree cat, taking him at 11 yards off an anthill to the side of the shooting lane. After your success, cats will continue to find your baits throughout the hunt. Sausage tree cat eventually pitched up to a lion bait a kilometre from where I first laid eyes on his trail camera picture and schemed on his demise. It was unmistakably him. The spot pattern and his size confirmed it. He fed for four days, leisurely stuffing his face in daylight, the trail camera recording every snack he took. He is big, and I think bigger than I originally thought on that first hunt. I have a pretty good idea of his route now, where he drinks and which thickets he patrols. He will be a priority for me this coming season, and I look forward to playing the game with him again. Until then, I will have to satisfy myself daydreaming late at night about him softly padding the dry riverbeds and climbing the beautiful inselbergs of his territory.