When two Wild Card members took a holiday to the Kgalagadi, a day spent driving in search of a cobra took an unexpected turn with a surprising big cat sighting. By Olivia Wickstrom

On Wild Card member Wayne Canning’s recent visit to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, he and his wife took a game drive hoping to photograph a cobra in a sociable weaver’s nest. Wayne recalls:

“We were staying at Mata Mata and decided to spend the day driving around. We had a pretty successful morning seeing two great lions, a decent— if short— sighting of a leopard, and the usual old lion guarding the giraffe carcass that had been lying next to one of the pans for the past week. When we started the trip I remarked that I was desperate to see a cobra in a sociable weaver’s nest, and every time we passed a decent sized nest we would stop alongside or underneath and peer up hopefully into the nest. We were making our way back to camp when we passed under a rather large nest, so we made the obligatory stop and peered upwards.

“After scanning the nest and not finding anything we were ready to move on, but as we looked forward, we saw a vehicle heading towards us with something walking in front of it. We soon realized it was a young leopard and she was carrying something in her mouth, which we noticed was a small mouse. She stopped and lay down next to our vehicle, and gobbled it up. We were even more excited when we realised this small leopard was the infamous Masego. (Read more about individual leopards in the Kgalagadi Leopard Project’s identification guide.)

“Her inquisitive nature and the attraction of yet another snack lured her into the nest above the vehicle, and she was soon walking on top of the nest hunting for birds. Her hunt was unsuccessful and it soon looked like she might jump off the nest onto our bakkie. She thought better of this and expertly maneuvered herself down the trunk of the tree, and back onto the ground.

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Pictures by Ayesha Cantor

“She then sniffed around the car and moved over to my wife’s side of the vehicle, sniffing the bakkie and the side mirror. When she walked towards the back of the vehicle we no longer had a good view of her, but as she disappeared behind the vehicle we felt a soft thud on the roof and realised she had jumped onto the back of the bakkie,” says Wayne.

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“This was way better than any cobra sighting and I was grinning from ear to ear. She stayed there for a few moments and posed for her photo to be taken before jumping off. After she jumped off, she wandered past the cars behind us and off into the bush.”

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As cars began to drive past, observers told Wayne and his wife what they’d seen. “She had sniffed around and was particularly interested in the bag of firewood that was strapped on top – one person even asked if we’d hidden some biltong inside,” says Wayne.

Luckily an observer, Ayesha Cantor, captured photos of the encounter. “We are so pleased there are pictures to show the story, as we didn’t think anyone would believe it!”