After a dead impala ram was spotted in late August at Letaba Bridge in the Kruger National Park, speculation ensued. How did the animal die? Who or what killed it? By Arnold Ras

In late August 2015, visitors to the Kruger National Park spotted a dead impala ram in the dry riverbed below the Letaba Bridge. Among them were Leon Viljoen and his granddaughter Caelan, a regular visitor to Kruger since the age of four. Caelan, now 11 and “wildly enthusiastic about wildlife”, was just as puzzled by the dead antelope and desperately wanted to unravel the mystery.

Grandfather Leon tells Wild: “Over a three day period there was great speculation over how this impala ram was killed as there was no blood visible around the carcass. Numbers of spectators gathered on the bridge to view the dead animal on a dry portion of the riverbed, and theories ranged from a leopard kill to the animal having been shot.”

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How did this impala die? Although no sign of blood on the ground, a hole is visible below the topmost horn. Pictures by Leon Viljoen

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After Regional Ranger Andrew Desmet’s arrival, he invited Leon, son-in-law, Calla, and granddaughter Caelan to accompany him down to the riverbed to inspect the impala carcass at close quarters.

There was no leopard spoor near the animal and no bite marks on it either, only a hole on its left shoulder. The animal lay untouched by scavengers for the whole of Wednesday. On Thursday, the carcass had been dragged up the riverbank but still lay in view of the spectators on the bridge.

Help in solving the mystery came from the Letaba Regional Ranger, Andrew Desmet [who survived being shot during an anti-rhino poaching operation in the Kruger in 2013]. He asked Leon, his son-in-law, Calla, and young Caelan to join him in taking a closer look.

“Andrew told us the hole was too large to have been caused by a bullet and suggested another impala ram was the culprit. The most plausible theory was that the impala had been gored in a fight with another ram, had its lung punctured and shortly after dropped dead.

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According to Ranger Andrew the hole was too large to have been caused by a bullet.

“By this stage the impala had had a large portion of its stomach removed. During the course of the morning a leopard had appeared from behind a bush, made its way to the carcass and taken a few good bites before retreating behind the bush. Interestingly enough the only vulture seen was a white-headed vulture perched on a nearby tree. It made no effort to investigate more closely.

“Caelan experienced the afternoon of her life. Andrew went out of his way to answer all her questions and couldn’t have been more supportive. My granddaughter and I feel privileged to have met him. In Caelan’s own words: ‘It was the greatest wildlife day of my life.’”

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A few days later… We see how a leopard is making its way down to the carcass. Notice how the impala’s stomach has been ripped open. Before long there was no sign of the carcass. Perhaps the leopard dragged it away out of sight of the bridge?