Lying below a large tree, a satiated female leopard watched us carefully as we maneuvered the car into the best position. The spotlight bathed her velveteen coat in soft yellow light and the majesty of this elusive predator was revealed to us all. The Leopard ID Project has visited Machaba before on the basis of its high leopard population but this was what we had come for, an unrecorded individual to add to our database. In the shadows close by lay the remains of an impala carcass that had fallen foul to the silent assassin that dozed peacefully before us. The hind quarters had been devoured as well as some of the nutritious internal organs but perhaps a good 40kgs of welcome protein still remained. The female had eaten her fill for now so we switched off all of the lights and sat in the silent darkness, listening to sounds of her pant and the distant splashes as hippos emerged from their watery resting places to roam the plains in search of fresh grass.
A rustle alerted us to the fact that she had risen from her slumber. Still we kept the lights off, reveling in the unknown as we listened to the fallen leaves quietly crunch under her pads. The sound approached the vehicle. Pulses raced as the crunching stopped next to the car, the leopard investigating her dinner audience, feeling bolder and more comfortable now that the ally of darkness enveloped her. It was a truly wondrous moment, and collectively we held our breath until, satisfied that we posed no immediate threat, the soft footsteps abated. The leopardess moved away through the undergrowth, our spotlight now illuminating her progress as the apparition melted into the bush beyond the reach of our spotlight.