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Written by: Greg McCall-Peat

More often than not animals tend to do the exact opposite of what guides say or think they will do. They seem to do this for fun, just to prove us wrong and leave us looking like fools in front of our guests.

We recently posted a blog about the treehouse at Umlani Bush Camp and the leopard that was photographed peering through but decided it couldn’t get in and gave up. This gave us the impression that our treehouse was leopard-proof and that it was in fact 100% safe from any curious animals that showed an interest in it. However, we were wrong…

As luck would have it a mere two days after our treehouse blog went live, we had a travel agent staying at the lodge who requested to see the treehouse.

We instructed our field guide, Amos, to take the agent to the treehouse so that she could have a look. We suggested they drive up to it so that the agent could then have a proper tour instead of just seeing it from a distance. Amos did just that. However, on arrival at the treehouse everyone was surprised to see that it was already occupied… by a leopard.

Enjoying the view from above.
Enjoying the view from above.

Amos radioed the lodge to inform us of the “guest” in the treehouse, and of course we didn’t believe him. We thought our treehouse to be safe – not to mention leopard-proof – and we had good reason to believe so as no leopard had ever been up there before. Amos insisted that there really was a leopard in the treehouse so we decided to hop in a vehicle to see for ourselves.

As we approached the treehouse everything seemed normal; we couldn’t see any sign of the leopard and our doubt in Amos’ story grew. The design of the treehouse is such that even from a distance we should have at least been able to see the silhouette of a leopard but as we couldn’t, we really did think Amos had pulled off the ultimate joke. But as we pulled up to the treehouse, the reason for not immediately noticing the animal was quite clear: the Nyeleti female was lounging on one of the beds and was fast asleep.

Nyeleti looking comfortable on the bed.
Nyeleti looking comfortable on the bed.

For a while we watched her as she seemed quite smug at having fooled us and achieved the impossible, but when a herd of elephants approached she suddenly didn’t seem so comfortable anymore and decided that she no longer wanted to be up there. However, getting down wasn’t as easy as getting up. It was clear to see that this really was her first time up there and she nervously started pacing around the treehouse looking for a way down. She would walk up to the edge with her ears pressed flat on her head and nervously look down at the ground. Eventually she worked out how to get down using one of the tree branches, and after a bit of leopard acrobatics she walked off looking very proud of herself and her achievement.

Pondering about how to get down.
Pondering about how to get down.

We couldn’t believe her timing of this stunt. How did she know that we had been bragging about how safe our treehouse was? But one thing was for sure, it wasn’t anymore and after doing it once she would more than likely do it again. We will have to rethink our design in order to make it a safe spot for guests to stay in once more. This means a total overhaul of the treehouse and an opportunity to make our treehouse even better than it was before, which will in turn allow our guests to have an even more amazing experience.

Proudly strutting her stuff after eventually climbing down.
Proudly strutting her stuff after eventually climbing down.
Shenton Safaris
Umlani Bushcamp

Umlani Bushcamp is located in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, which shares an unfenced border with the Kruger National Park. This is true Big 5 territory and guests have an opportunity to see lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino on safe, expertly guided game drives and bush walks.