Safari!!! One of the many things people dream of.
For those lucky enough to have been on one and seen all of the infamous “Big 5”, they can relate ever so slightly to what I am going to touch on in this short story.
My favourite animal, well, more of an obsession, is definitely the leopard – an animal that relies solely on itself for everything. It can adapt to almost any weather condition and manages to sneak its way out of almost any situation, still keeping its pride intact and doing so with an attitude that only can compare to someone of royalty.
A leopard is the most free animal there is. No one can own a leopard, they move about creating huge territories which cover many game reserves and even urbanized areas.
Most rangers love leopard purely because they are so difficult to see and when you do see them it is considered an exciting privilege and an achievement.
There is nothing more beautiful then a fresh leopard track on a sunny morning, leading down a game path towards a drainage line which you know is a brilliant spot for the cat of cats.
First, your tracker stops you – “YIMA MFO!” (stop friend) and says to you “muhle ingwe nkondso” which in Zulu/Tsonga means “fresh leopard tracks”. You get a tingle down your spine and think about whether or not to tell your guests because something so exciting cannot be spoilt by words until you see it.
You then climb off the vehicle and both you and your tracker kneel down on your haunches and discuss the weather of the previous night, the size of the track and all other contributing factors that might help to determine how fresh the tracks are and which leopard it could be. All of this could give you a small idea of how easy or difficult this specific leopard will be to find.
You climb back in the vehicle and think about how amazing it would be to find the wildest animal on earth using an ancient art perfected by the Tsonga people of this area.
So you follow the tracks on the road, driving slowly with your tracker commenting on direction change and whether it has gone off the road or not. Then eventually it does. Now its time to for the tracker to be the artist and paint a picture of where this leopard is going as it moves through thick bush, rocks, tall grass and, if you’re lucky, soft sand.
By now, I’m driving around trying to keep my guests occupied and talking about anything that we see that may be of interest….then I hear “Jordan ngena”!! ( Jordan, come in). The radio speaks to me and on the other end is my tracker. His next words make my heart pump wildly. “ISKHUMILE!!” (I found it!!). He directs me to where he is and points in the direction in which he last saw the spotted cat. We approach slowly. There is a strong smell in the air, perhaps a kill?
And there it is with its back towards us, his head with steel eyes looking at us as if to say “What took you so long? I mean, you’re all lucky I even let you see me.”
At this point you are overjoyed! Firstly, you managed to see this amazing animal and secondly, you all deserved it because it was well worth the effort. Nothing can explain it.
I thank the heavens that there is an animal that remains wild forever and will always be a privilege to see and respect.