The Bittersweet Sighting Of an Impala Lamb
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It was December a few years back, when Anton Kruger and his wife Renate were driving in the Kruger National Park between Letaba River Bridge and Letaba Camp on the H1-6. It is there in an open field that they faltered upon a rather rare sighting of a birth.
Anton says, “My wife is a midwife, so to behold the birth of this impala lamb was especially soul-stirring for her. It’s truly not something you see every day. And just to realise this powerless little creature lifting its head and juddering its huge floppy ears before us – it just beamed over us”.
Unfortunately at that superior moment what Anton and Renate did not realise… was that their hearts were about to be broken…!
The mother impala amidst bonding, with her new-born sensed danger (her nose twitching), and her natural instinct kicked in. She suddenly leaped away, fleeing her little impala lamb to face its fate all alone.
Just as suddenly as the impala leaped away, a large leopard appeared and Anton says, “My wife was completely emotional; eyes closed, she just couldn’t watch. Throughout she remained in a state of denial that the impala lamb would remain unharmed. I too, was in a moment of shock”.
Whilst watching this video footage what is puzzling to me and I am sure many viewers seeing it will agree, before the leopard claimed its prey, he seems almost confused, hesitant like!
To clarify this, I chatted to Rickus Groenewald, an overland guide to get his take. He responds by saying, “Because the opportunity was there, the leopard’s instinct was to attack the ewe, but he was distracted. Something else had caught his eye – the impala lamb!”
However, Rickus believes over and above this and the leopard’s attentive behaviour towards the surrounding vehicles there was another reason for hesitation, and says, “If you look real close, the leopard’s belly seemed relatively full, and perhaps he wasn’t all that hungry.” Chances are the impala lamb was also a new scenario for the leopard – a new smell; a new shape; and in light something new that did not bolt from him.
All of this may add up to what the leopard’s initial idea was, and what actually happened in real time.
Watching the video footage, I like Renate was desperately wishing for a happy ending. Anton admits that in his and Renate’s denial they were both hoping for an outcome like the famous lioness in Tsavo who adopted the Oryx. Or even Legadema the leopardess at Mombo who cared for the baby baboon.
Fortunately for leopards or unfortunately for us spectators, leopards and other cats remain opportunists, and with all paws will mostly take an opportunity when it arises!
Rickus concludes, “Even as a guide we are always encountering new information, interaction and behaviour of animals we think we know. We must realise, animals don’t read the books we do about their behaviour and naturally don’t always behave according to what is read about them.” Through life and death nature remains remarkable and unpredictable.
Anton finally settles by saying, “My wife and I were both encouraged by the thought that this little impala lamb accomplished its calling very early on in life..!”
Ewe – mother impala