Sacred Combe Safari III
There are moments very dear to the professional safari guide, occasions that showcase both knowledge and skill in the same dramatic moment: so that it seems that the guide himself had personally called the lovely beast into being.
Moffat Mwanza was about to have just such a moment as he drove a party of us across the open savannah. He stopped briefly to run his binoculars over a distant tree. He knew the place, he knew the tree, he knew what he was likely to find there, at this point in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.
I too inspected the tree, knowing exactly what he was looking for, but all the same, he saw it and I didn’t. The tree in question was a sausage tree with fat wide branches that make perfect day-beds for this creature, but I looked and all I saw was wood and leaves and fallen flowers and the great white fruit that make the tree look like an Italian delicatessen.
“To the left, just above the lowest branches, just outside the trunk itself.”
I looked and I looked – and then suddenly there was a tail. A long tail, a long spotty tail. No other part of the animal was visible, but it was reasonable to deduce that the rest of a leopard was attached to it.
So Moffat pointed out the tail to our guests and then drove up to the tree, which revealed a pretty young female. The guests were rightly impressed: “Moffat, you’re a genius!”
The leopard had been lounging about among the branches with the boneless grace that sleepy leopards possess, but as we got closer, she shifted uneasily, and climbed to a higher branch. The guests took pictures but as the leopard was clearly upset, turning round and spitting peevishly in our directions. So as one they decided as one that it was only polite to move on.
Good guests. Good leopards.
We had three more sightings of leopard in the course of the same day: two females having a mild dispute about territory and the briefest glimpse of another leopard hunting impalas. Amazing. There were times when seeing a leopard at all was a noteworthy thing, when you could easily go ten days without seeing one. Now they are seen almost every day.
Perhaps the guides are better at looking for them. Perhaps the leopards are more tolerant of vehicles. Perhaps there are more leopards in the Valley. Perhaps all three. One certainty: no one was complaining.