Leopard branching out

Pamushana | June 2016

A few years ago a flash of gold leapt from a prominent tree some distance from our airstrip road. Each time I’ve driven past it since I glance at it in hope…

Then this happened: I went out before dawn on a scouting drive. Crawling along the airstrip road I gave the tree my standard concentrated glance. There was a leopard lying on a bough. It was staring hard at me. I slowly positioned the vehicle and brought it to a stop. Thoughts raced through my head, “Don’t look directly at him – it’s dark and he’s in shade so dial in the right ISO, f-stop and shutter speed in manual mode, and don’t mess this up – turn the radio low – breathe quietly.”

Using my most unthreatening body language I slowly looked back at him. He looked at me a while longer with his unusually light eyes, and settled a little. I pointed my intimidating large lens his way. His body language read, “I don’t like that you’ve seen me, but you seem okay so just stay there and no false moves.” After a while he relaxed enough to sit up and pull a stashed impala carcass out of a crevice in the tree’s branches. He began feeding, and over the next 20 minutes the scene etched itself into my memory even though I had the photos to fall back on.

Then the day woke up, another vehicle drove past, and this proved too much for the golden cat. He picked up the carcass, ran down the trunk of the tree and proceeded to feed in the long grass at the base, and was hidden completely.

Although there are many leopards in this region they are naturally elusive and wary of human activity (as they should be), so to see this sighting here was a tremendous joy.