Written by: Chris Stamper
As we were nearing the end of the our level 1 FGASA course the guiding students were starting to explore the area for a suitable route for each of their assessments whilst brushing up on a few of their new skills.
We left camp late one afternoon and wound our way through the woodland towards an area known as Beacon Rock. On the way, our “guide for the day”, Katarina, stopped to point out many interesting birds, flowers, trees and animal tracks. Before leaving camp Katarina had asked everyone what animal or interest they had, and for one of the few times during the course, nobody said “leopard”!
Whilst winding our way down a road, having a small competition of ‘who can identify that tree’ as one tends to do from time to time on these courses, the vehicle came to an abrupt stop and we all looked to the road to see what had caused the sudden halt!
There in the road, no more than 50 meters from the vehicle, was a magnificent female leopard. She stopped for a few seconds to look at us and then to everyone’s amazement she just continued walking straight towards the vehicle.
We noticed that one of her eyes was darker in color and in fact was cloudy in appearance.
This often occurs in big cats due to injuries sustained while fighting with other cats or going after kills. The amazing thing is that it doesn’t seem to impede the cats in any serious way from carrying out their day to day functions. One leopard we followed lived over 10 years after sustaining such an injury and successfully raised a few litters of cubs in the process!
Anyway, back to the leopard in the road! Just a few meters short of the vehicle she moved into the bush to allow herself some breathing space before returning to the road and resuming her march, stopping once in a while to elegantly scent mark her territory with urine. We followed at a distance that she was comfortable with before she decided to head off the road and into the open woodland.
Then the leopard stopped, put her nose into the air and sniffed once. She then let out a vocalisation that safari guides live for; a short grunt followed by a few loud sniff-like noises. She called once more and moved slightly deeper into the bush, where we lost sight of her for a second. The anticipation and excitement on the vehicle was electric, and after re-positioning the vehicle we saw what we were hoping for. A leopard cub bounded out of the grass to greet its mother and we watched as the two played and groomed.
So next time your safari guide asks you about your interests before a drive, perhaps, trees or birds should be your response, but never a leopard!