“What would you like to see?” Ephraim, the Game Ranger and driver of the game-viewing vehicle – about which I will tell our overseas visitors more in due course – asked, as we stood at the vehicle before our first drive late on Friday afternoon. We chimed a series of requests, but I’m pretty certain leopard headed the list. He and Amos, the tracker, who sits on a seat right on the front of the vehicle from where he can survey the spoor, glanced at each other. Less than 5 minutes later, scarcely out of the camp, we drove 100m off the road and they pointed one out to us. They had clearly done a bit of homework before the drive! You can’t see it? Neither could I! I was looking for movement way off in the distance. Here he is:
Only meters away from us, he was so well camouflaged, stretched out asleep on the short grass, that I mistook him for a stump as I scanned the depth between the bushes.
Immediately we teased Ephraim: he was dead and stuffed, put out as a first welcome to guests. No, look at his tail twitching. He was staked to the ground. No, this was for real.
We had just been incredibly lucky!
Off we drove – and I include only one further highlight from that first evening’s drive. It was quite dark, and Amos held a powerful hand-lamp. Suddenly a rhinoceros came out of the bushes to our right, moved down the road some meters and crossed into the dark on the left. I managed this rather atmospheric shot.
The next evening we elected to start with a walk near the camp – that is when I photographed the first of my tree shots in the first of my Djuma posts. But then we got the message on the radio – a leopard had been spotted not too far away. And so the vehicle came to pick us up to go find it…
Notice that Amos is sitting inside as we connect with the leopard in dense bush, in the sun straight ahead … We learnt about a ‘bush GPS’ here: put your vehicle into neutral and rev it, so that another vehicle can pinpoint where you are! (That evening we used the night version so that another vehicle could find the lions we were following: shine the search-light up into the sky. The communication between rangers, often so unobtrusive that visitors are not aware of it, is part of the bush experience. All animals move freely over thousands of hectares and any encounter is based as much on luck as on tracking skills and communication. But the good ranger ‘finds the story’ and creates the drama of the encounter. And Ephraim and Amos were an excellent combo!)
The leopard played her part too, climbing up on to an anthill to survey the terrain, ignoring the two vehicles flanking her. In time they realise that the vehicles prove no threat. But don’t think of climbing down or even changing the silhouette of the vehicle by standing up when close to most animals… She is the mother, we hear, of the young male we saw the previous day. These rangers know their animals!
Thank you, Ma’am; we could hardly have posed you better if we’d done it ourselves!
The pleasure, my dear man, is mine. (Actually I wish they’d scram and leave me to my hunting! But a girl’s got to wave her tail to the populace…)
Now, if you’d excuse me… I do have other commitments.
And off she goes… But this royal loves the paparazzi, for she finds another opportunity to pose, first scratching hear head seductively against the tree-trunk, before hopping up on to it, the lighting and camera angle always in the back of her mind.
Right. I think we have our story. CUT!
Go check the webcam at Djuma if you have not yet done so… besides the interesting views of wild animals (I watched a buffalo scratching itself on a stump earlier), when the camera swings to the left you might recognise the view of the boma I wrote about yesterday…
POSTSCRIPT: Do take a look at the comments – my gardening friend Bonnie in Texas who I have corresponded with over several years, recognised the leopard as Karula and we talk about her some more in the comments. As I say there: small world – in which Djuma obviously plays an inordinately large part!!