Leopard on foot

3rd May 2014

Thursday 24th April 2014

I’m incredibly comfy in my little dome tent despite it not having a zip able door, give me a sheep skin rug and I’d be as happy as larry anywhere.

The fever is definitely starting to subside and I felt strong when I got up this morning. This was definitely reflected in my persona, I was starting to get back to my normal sprightly and chirpy self that I’ve rediscovered since taking this year out.

Normally on the last morning of a trail the group opt for a short drive with a coffee stop so that they can get on their way back to their city life. It’s usually the night before when they start talking about the long drive home and what lays in wait from them. We should ban any such talk as it puts a real downer on everyone. But the honeymoon couple, I’m very grateful to say, opted to walk.

We didn’t go far, we drove to the airstrip and walked from there. As soon as we’d gathered ourselves and loaded the rifles Steve spotted a herd of buffalo exactly where we were going to walk.

The luck of this pair continues, this was their eleventh encounter, the previous trail only had three. We approached the herd downwind and used some Crotons for cover, as we reached the end it opened up to reveal that we had split the herd with another 50 plus to our north. We slowly made our way through and emerged at the other side.

Now we’d got ourselves into a position for the major objective of the morning, we wanted to find leopard and we knew that there was a female in the area. We were in prime leopard country with lots of game, denning sites and the area smelt of death.

As Steve came to a standstill I whispered, “This is looking a little thick”, he turned round, gave me a wink and then addressed our honeymooners. He explained that there’s a good chance that we may encounter leopard to which I thought he was raising expectations a little.

He carried on explaining what they should do if we were so lucky, pretty much putting the fear of God into them. I added that if I gave the instruction to back off they should do so immediately staying behind the rifle at all times.

Within five minutes of the briefing we were following a game trail as it rose up a gentle hillock. As we came to its crest a female leopard no more than thirty five metres away jumped up from behind a fallen Tortillis (umbrella thorn) and crouched on the trunk looking straight at us. We all had a perfect view for what seemed like an age, in reality it was just a couple of seconds before she left the way she came, without any noise whatsoever.

Steve gave the order for us to retreat, I moved the guests back telling them not to go so quickly. Once we’d got a safe distance we were able to breathe and most importantly exchange huge grins. I’d managed to remain calm through the encounter which I was so delighted about, it wasn’t until we were weaving our way back out through the buffalo did I go a little weak at the knees.

We had no luck relocating the leopard in the vehicle so opted for a coffee instead to celebrate and compare stories. Today was my vindication, yesterday I’d forgotten the coffee plunger, today Steve had forgotten the whole hot box. We weren’t far from trails so we bumbled our way back and re-grouped there.

Now that my six nights at the trails camp was over I headed back to EcoTraining. I was desperate to get there so that I could utter, to anybody that would listen, the three words that make the most meaningful phrase in the English language, “Leopard on foot”.

Once I’d bored everyone back at camp with my stories it was back to duties. This afternoon it was simply a case of backing-up on a tracking assessment which wasn’t too onerous, in fact I wasn’t much more than a heavily armed chauffeur. This meant that I got the usual “Home James” chirps.