With access to the park limited to the morning hours and in the afternoon only till eight o’clock in the evening it isn’t hard to realise a huge amount of species and behaviour must go unseen. Plus due to its’ size its impossible to be in multiple spots at once in the park, so whilst you’re watching a herd of elephants grazing, a mile away a leopard could be making a kill unbeknown to you.
With the advance in camera technology and availability of them on the general market a new craze for ‘trap camming’ has been born. People can now spy on the animals without even being there.
After the pangolin encounter I’d set up a few cameras up around the lodge and although it was great to see hyenas outside my bedroom window, honey badgers strolling through the compound and civets foraging around the laundry room I never spotted the elusive pangolin again on the cameras.
Due to disturbance from vehicles it was hard to find a spot in the park to put the cameras, I’d tried one on a supposed aardvark hole for a week only to return to 752 photos of warthogs exiting and entering the hole.
Not far from the lodge though there was a gully where, if positioned correctly no car would be able to see a camera without knowing it was there already.
The problem with trapcamming in Africa wasn’t really the chance of your camera being stolen though, it was more the chances of some kind of animal stealing it or crushing it. Hyenas and elephants were the main troublemakers so we had to place the camera in a solid metal casing on a giant metal stake driven into the ground.
James DA and I headed out one afternoon to set the camera up in the nearby gully. We knew that the local shy female leopard was frequently seen in the area and like all leopards loved the gully so were confident we should get something (and not 752 warthog photos).
Knowing the gully was a leopard hotspot we thought we’d check to see if she was around before jumping down to place the camera. Despite it being the heat of the day and completely shadeless we couldn't risk it. Pulling up alongside the gully James checked one way as I check the other, before I knew it springing out of the gully was our leopard.
When I see a leopard no matter how many times I see it I lose the ability to speak for a few seconds, instead often hitting whoever the person next to me is and pointing. This is what happened but luckily James saw her too. Amazing, who said leopards are nocturnal?
After she’d rapidly disappeared into the bush we knew the coast was clear so had the camera in place quickly and were out of there, excited to see what we’d record.
James was away for a while guiding out at camps so we left the camera in place for the moment, I checked on its position every few days just in case an ele’ had knocked the stake over but it seemed safe.
Soon enough James was back at the lodge and it was time to retrieve our camera. Since he’d been away we’d been visited by a herd of rogue elephants who were intent on destroying the staff quarters at the lodge. Protective measures had to be put in place in the form of an electric fence around our rooms and James managed to wreck his back sneaking under the fence on his return but I managed to coax him out to drive me to the camera and complete the short video we were making on our trap camming experience, despite him being unable to stand up straight and being in excruciating pain.
On arriving at the gully we did our usual check but this time no leopards erupted from it. James struggled down to the camera and we headed back to the lodge to see what we’d got.
I always get a sense of excitement on downloading the card from a trap cam, usually this is met with some disappointment when all I see is blurry images of animals’ bums in the dark but when we saw we had a hyena almost immediately our camera had been successful. This individual was actually covered in blood, clearly it had been visiting a kill nearby.
The hyena was quickly overshadowed though with the appearance of a leopard on the screen, in broad daylight. Mission accomplished. We actually had multiple passes from the leopard on numerous days and all in daylight.
Along with our leopard successes there was an accompanying supporting cast of elephants, impalas, African civets, white tailed mongooses and even a pair of porcupines an animal that I desperately wanted to see but continued to evade me throughout my stay.