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Dan's leopard.

Dan Thomas of Houston came to visit Mokore for his sixth African safari this last October, 2014. Dan's main target species was leopard. Due to the lateness of permits being issued in the Save Valley conservancy, Dan booked an end-of-season cat. We were both concerned about the heat and baiting but there was nothing else to be done. Dan had previously tried for a leopard in April 2006 but had failed due to unseasonably high temperatures and millions of flies. Baits would not last more than two nights and so our concern with the heat was that a similar problem might arise.

Dan arrived in camp and the first goal was to check the existing baits and get more baits out in the field. The Mokore Manager, Donovan, had been keeping an eye out for leopard sign and had started baiting a couple of days prior to us arriving. He had found two kills made by big toms the week prior to the hunt. The first was an impala ram but this was unfortunately found by vultures. The second was a young eland which he tied up and covered to prevent the vultures finding it. Unfortunately we think the cat was close by when this happened and never returned. Nonetheless, this gave us good encouragement as we knew the big cats were around.

On the morning of the second day we were at Mokore we found a big tom had fed on a bait near a small dam.

We immediately built a blind and prepared to sit there that evening. It was a full moon and so we had fairly good visibility. At 9 pm we had a black rhino come and visit the dam, walking close by the blind and making a huge racket--and this got our attention! It was nice to watch him in the moonlight until he came walking towards us. Just after the rhino left, the leopard materialised and walked within fifteen metres of our blind but was looking very nervous. He disappeared from there for about a quarter of an hour and we thought he had caught our scent. But apparently not--I heard him sniffing in the audio bug and alerted Dan that he was returning. He jumped up in the tree, back down and then up again. Once he started feeding I started the rheostat but as soon as the light hit the cat he jumped out of the tree. Cursing, I switched off the light and we waited some more. The cat did not return so at around 12:30 am we decided to leave the blind and head back to camp. About an hour after leaving, our trail camera showed us that a big pride of lion had come in and tried to get our bait. Tracks revealed that the two males had also found our blind and circled it totally about two metres from it so we were extremely glad we were no longer in it.

Due to the lions, rhino and elephant having been at the dam we decided to build a tree blind. Construction of these is always a big job and I am always concerned that there is a disturbance factor. To make a long story short, we built it and sat all night in it but although the cat called nearby, he never came to the bait. Frustrated, I thought we had maybe scared him off with the blind construction.

Checking our other baits we found a second bait hit by a big tom and so started building our third blind in four days.

We sat that evening and heard bushbuck and monkey alarm calls early and thought we were in for an early treat. By midnight the big cat had still not shown up and so we decided the chairs were getting a bit hard and it was time to retire to bed.

The next morning we discovered two things of interest. Firstly we discovered the reason the first cat had not returned to our bait at the dam was that he had killed a big kudu cow about 300 metres from where our bait was. Unfortunately by the time we found this, the meat was finished. The second interesting fact was that the cat at the bait we had sat before the previous evening had come in but after we had left the night before.

Using the same blind but replacing the chairs with mattresses we prepared to spend the whole of that night there. It was honestly one of the most sauna-like blinds I have ever sat in! The hot October sun beating down on the little tent blind we used was in understatement unpleasant. Again just after 7pm we heard the cat approaching but again nothing.

Waiting, sweating and not really enjoying the cramped space, the hours ticked by slowly. Just before 0100 we heard the cat approaching again. This time he walked up and jumped straight into the tree. Unfortunately the moon had just started to wane and so there was not sufficient moonlight to see him by. Letting him feed for about five minutes I told Dan to get ready and once he was in position I started the rheostat up. It worked perfectly and the cat just kept on feeding. With the way the cat was lying on the branch I couldn't tell for sure he was a male until he paused in his feeding and lifted his head. Immediately I saw he was a big tom and told Dan to go ahead. Dan's shot placement was perfect and the big cat fell out of the tree like the proverbial sack of potatoes.

Listening on the audio I thought I heard him twitch a couple of times at the base of the tree but then nothing. We were very sure he was stone dead but as the saying goes it is the dead ones that kill you and so we left the blind cautiously, going back up the hill to get radio communications with the truck. After telling the trackers to bring the vehicle, Dan and I went around into the sandy river bed along which our bait had been hanging and worked our way towards the bait tree. What a wonderful feeling it was to see that beautiful big cat lying at the base of the tree. The elation after all the years of Dan waiting for a second attempt, the heat not having ruined the hunt and the fact that the plan and Dan's shot had all worked out perfectly was great!

When the truck arrived we took photos and then headed back to camp for a few celebratory drinks.

With the main mission complete and the intense heat, we took the rest of the safari easy and just hunted when it was cool. Dan managed to shoot a few other great trophies including a 58.5" kudu, a nice klipspringer, a warthog and a big stink bull giraffe.
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Author:Duckworth, Gary
Publication:African Hunter Magazine
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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