'This is good habitat for leopards', said George this afternoon as we drove across an acacia-dotted plain in the Serengeti. 'You should keep your eyes open for them.' My eyes, be I in India or Africa, are always open for leopards and a few hundred metres further, with what I like to imagine was a nonchalant air, I pointed one out to my group, draped across the branch of a tree some tens of metres from the track.
Inside I was far from nonchalant; I was cheering for joy. Of all the cats I have seen, leopards, with the exception of snow leopards, fire my imagination most. They are power and grace in one gorgeous animal. They have the strength to walk up a tree with an impala in their jaws. They can sink into grass and be lost in a moment. Their walk is purposeful and their gaze fierce. And their coats are the most lustrous of any cat's. They are also unreliable, the big cat I was most fearful I would miss in Tanzania: inside I was cheering for joy.
Our leopard was not comfortable. He moved between branches in his acacia, dangling legs and tail, pulling them up, turning to face us, turning away. The pewter clouds, which had gathered all morning over the plain, hurled their rain at him in fitful flurries. As if this were not enough, a silverbird, incensed at this feline intrusion, mobbed him, inches from his nose. Unable to find peace he gave up on his tree and, head-first in the manner of his kind, slipped down the trunk and into the gold grasses below. He walked swiftly - no doubt aware of a male lion seen earlier close by - to the next tree, scaled it and settled to sleep. Now he was happy.
We too were happy as we drove back to our lodge in the late afternoon, past topi and Kirk's dikdiks, defassa waterbuck and Hildebrandt's starlings. Inside and out, in this place where the wild still ebbs and flows in a great tide, we cheered for joy.
|Acacia savannah in the Serengeti|
|The blob in the lower left branch is a leopard.|
Cats seen in 2015
cheetah Acinonyx jubatus
serval Leptailurus serval
leopard Panthera pardus