Spotting the leopard


‘You should have been here yesterday’

First things first. Yes, yes. I know that the picture at the top of this post is not of a leopard. (Though leopards, not lions, according to our Amazing Guide Donald, are the cats one expects to find draped in trees. Though only one at a time. Leopards, apparently, are loners. Lions like being with other lions. There were actually two more lions draped in this one tree. I just couldn’t fit them into the picture.)

'Let sleeping lions lie', I always say. At least when I'm this close to one

‘Let sleeping lions lie’, I always say. At least when I’m this close to one

While lions, contrary to the evidence in that photo, do not exactly grow on trees, we were very lucky safari-goers, lion wise. We saw not only lions sleeping in trees, but lions sleeping in the grass.  And sleeping on these huge rocks called ‘kopje‘. (For you ‘Lion King’ movie fans, that’s where the Big Boss Lion lived.) We even saw lions not sleeping. One rather large male even crossed the road right in front of us. Each of us remained very still, and tried not to look like a warthog, which is one of his favorite foods.

The Master of All He Surveys. At least on the Serengeti

The Master of All He Surveys. At least on the Serengeti

Anyway. We were starting to feel, after more than 50 lions (seriously!) that if “you’ve seen one lion, you’ve seen ’em all.” (Not really. You never get over the thrill. I just had to say that.)

Even when we didn't see the lion, we could see where he (or she) had been. Watch your step!

Even when we didn’t see the lion, we could see where he (or she) had been. Watch your step!

But back to looking for the leopard. It’s not that we were crossing big animals off a checklist or anything. Though there is a list called The Big Five. If I remember correctly, it consists of Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Rhino, and Leopard, and is a leftover from the days when people hunted to kill. (Which, if you remember the Famous Lion-Killing Dentist, some still do.) There is one woman on our tour who is quite into The Big Five. Though you’ll be glad to hear that she is not a dentist.

Anyway. We’d heard there was a leopard lurking in our vicinity. So of course off we went, in a quest to find it. You know that great surfing movie ‘The Endless Summer‘? The one where the cute California surfer boys chase the perfect wave all around the globe?

Well, in the movie, every time they get to a famous surfing spot, the locals tell them ‘you should have been here yesterday’. That was kind of how we felt when we were searching for the leopard in the Serengeti.

A whole string of Swahili would crackle out of our safari vehicle’s radio, and off we’d go, only to pull up to the tree in question, and hear ‘you should have been here an hour ago’. Not exactly ‘yesterday’, but the phrase had the same effect.

Now, we weren’t exaclty disappointed with our Cat Count. (Or our Any Other Animal Count, as you will soon see from the photographic evidence I hope I can produce. I am sitting now near the bar of a lodge at the far end of the Tarangire Park in Tanzania. The only place where there’s internet for about a zillion miles.)

And, as some of you know, we’re really here to search for African Birds. The other animals are gravy. Or, if that’s too graphic an image, let’s say they are the ‘cherry on top’. In fact, some of you keep asking ‘how many birds have you seen?’ To which my answer, not being the Bird Counter in our group, is ‘somewhere between ten and a zillion’. I did ask The Dude at lunch today for an approximate count. He said ‘more than 300’, which I thought was pretty spectacular. Then he added ‘not 300 birds; 300 species’. Ooops. And wow.

Ok. Here's a couple of the birds we saw. Note that they do have rather large manes, for cranes

Ok. Here’s a couple of the birds we saw. Note that they do kind of have manes (!) They are some sort of crane. I would ask the name, but The Dude is napping. Rather like a Big Cat, actually

I will now reveal that we did, in fact, see a leopard. It was at the end of a long afternoon of very successful bird-and-mammal stalking. And, as usually happens, we discovered it almost by not actually looking for it. You’ll have to trust me when I tell you it was amazing. Because it was too far for my little Canon to capture. But I could see his spots and his face and his lovely long tail through my handy binoculars. I could even watch him leap from his perch to chase some ill-advised elephants who had lingered near the base of his tree. And that was more than enough for me.

But, as a bonus for you readers who’ve stayed with me thus far, here is a picture of an even more elusive cat, which we almost literally stumbled over, if one can be said to ‘stumble’ in a safari vehicle.

Well, if we couldn't get a photo of the leopard, we did at least get one of the cheetah. Is that cheating?

Well, if we couldn’t get a photo of the leopard, we did at least get one of the cheetah. Is that cheating?

Well, it’s over and out. Because that’s just what’s going to happen to the internet very soon.

Tarangire Park, Tanzania. January 2016

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31 thoughts on “Spotting the leopard

  1. Well, now I’m jealous. You saw a real, live, in the wild cheetah. They are my favorite (along with wolves and frogs). Great shots! Looks like you’re having an amazing trip!

    • The cheetah was indeed the sight of a lifetime — one of many in this Trip of a Lifetime. It’s been The Dude’s dream to see the animals of Africa, and I’ve been only too happy to keep him company! Thank you, as always, for your readership (!) If I see a spare cheetah, I’ll send him your way.

      • The only picture of a cheetah I ever took was a picture of a cheetah. A picture of a picture. I did see one at the zoo but I was too in awe and forgot to get a picture of it. Lucky you to keep The Dude company. Hard work, but someone’s gotta do it 🙂

  2. kathy lavyne

    Dear Alice and Wayne,
    I am so enjoying your journal. Although it was many years (decades) ago that M and I were on safari, so much of of what you’ve shared is suddenly so familiar. At least you didn’t have to eat what you killed, not having been on a hunting safari as were we. Trust me, I would rather look like a warthog than eat one, and I was the only member of our party of who didn’t find them delectable. Nor was I a great
    fan of puku stew or eland burgers. Fortunately, I can’t remember all the other delectable treats we were offered. I made due with cheese and Cristal.

  3. Ellen Fulton

    Loving your safari from my couch! BtW, Our Amazing Donald (The Donald, native to NYC) has 2 sons, Eric & I forget the other name, Unless a hoax article, I saw a pic of them somewhere in Net, proudly posed with their exotic kills – (an elephant trunk for one).

    • Hey, thanks Ellen! So happy you’re getting a kick out of our adventure! As for The Donald’s sons, I’m not surprised one bit. BTW, I believe the other son is also named ‘Donald’ (AKA ‘Donny’); he went to nursery school with one of my good friend’s daughters.

  4. Cathy

    I love warthogs! We went on a safari about four years ago, but we didn’t see sleeping lions in trees! ust a few leftover “kills.” Enjoy your time and I love the photo of the birds.

    • Ah, Ruth. So glad you’re enjoying these posts from the Dark Continent. It is indeed a thrill to be here. Though I haven’t run into many Midwesterners (!) Quite a few Swedes, though.

  5. That’s some good living. Very nice.

    What a scramble it must have been to remember what a warthogs looks like in order to make sure that you did not look like one. I’m not sure I would be able to recall quickly enough and as a result, ended up as the metaphorical “straggler” we’ve all seen so many times on the African plains nature videos.

  6. Amazing journey, Alice. Seeing things you never see other than in zoos. And a cheetah is nothing to sneeze at. Thanks for the report from a place most of us have only seen on film or TV. Speaking of which – are you missing Netflix?

  7. I have loved experiencing the Safari through your eyes! While obviously it is not as good as being there in the flesh, I got a sense of the thrill. How fun!

    – Living Vicariously Through Others (from my comfy safe computer)

    • Why, thank you, Sunnymadeleine! I am so glad you are enjoying the (virtual) trip. And it really IS quite a ‘trip’! More next week! (then we must go home, and back to snowy reality)

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