It was only about 8:30 am, and we had already enjoyed a wonderful encounter with the cheetah family, and then we received the news. A leopard had been spotted, and though it was a bit of a distance away, there was no question as to what we wanted to do. Head for the leopard, of course, no matter if the chance of it remaining in view was slim.
The leopard is the most elusive of the Big Five, the one that is most difficult to find while on safari due to the fact that they are solitary, shy and often stay hidden during the day. While I’d had great luck spotting this cat on previous trips, this time, in spite of the best efforts of our guides, we had not been able to check the leopard off our list.
It was a beautiful sunny morning, and we were happy to bounce around at a slightly faster than normal speed, as Lorna bee-lined our route for Big Cat Encounter Number 2 for the day. After about 30 minutes we arrived at our destination, as indicated by the Mara Conservancy ranger vehicle that was always around any of the big cats, as well as a few other safari vehicles. This was leopard country. Though not densely wooded, there were some trees and heavy underbrush growing along a narrow waterway that snaked its way inside a deeply-cut ravine. We saw the rosette spots through the greenery first, and then Lorna navigated us into a position to see the massive head busily chowing down on the remains of a small topi.
The size of the head and neck indicated this was definitely a male, one of the largest I had ever seen. Though half-way hidden in the grasses and brush, any glimpse of a leopard brings a bit of an adrenalin rush and awe at their sheer power and beauty. We drove to the other side of the ravine for a chance of a better look, then quickly reversed course as it began to move away from us on the other side again.
Lorna’s maneuvering rewarded us with some thrilling looks as it came out into the open, majestic and stately. It sauntered deliberately between the various safari vehicles and out into the grassland.
Number Five of the Big Five could finally be checked off, and we were all smiles as we drove off, hardly believing our luck on this fine morning.
LEOPARD TALES (TAILS) PART II
But our day was not finished. We watched a variety of scavengers fighting over the left-overs at a recent kill, saw a few lions, and a few more cheetahs. (All fun encounters to be expanded on at another time – as this is a leopard tale.)
After following along the Tanzanian border for a while, it was time to head back toward Kichwa Tembo and lunch. Our vehicle was in the lead, and Lorna stopped every now and then to scan the distant trees with her binoculars. I’m not sure how she was able to spot it, but hanging down parallel to a tree trunk, from an angled branch was a tail, a tail with black spots. Sure enough, attached to the tail was another leopard. This one was slimmer, the neck and head not nearly as massive, a female leopard in a tree!
Lorna notified the other guides and slowly moved closer. We remained at a distance so as not to startle her and give the others a chance to catch up. We watched through our binoculars and zoom lenses, as the leopard watched us. Then she suddenly looked in the other direction and began to move.
We moved, too, hoping to keep her in view. But she was quick and the grass was tall, and in less than a minute she had vanished, making us wonder how many tails at the end of stealthy, cunning bodies we had missed while out in the grasslands.