The Leopard


The most elusive animal in the African Bush.
By Sam Hopkins.

The majority of people who head to Africa on their travels are looking for the ‘big five:’ Lion, Elephant, Rhino (Black or White), Buffalo and the most elusive of them all, the leopard. I found myself chasing the same dream of being able to tick off the entire checklist. Kenya was my country of choice; a country infamous for its prolific wildlife; particularly in the Masai Mara, a staple of nature programmes globally.

My quest had taken me to the Mara, where I had seen wildlife in their thousands; the inevitable predators followed suit, allowing me perfect access to Lions and Cheetahs. But one animal evaded me still, even after two safaris and 600 U.S. dollars. This sneaky animal was the leopard; the one of the ‘big five’ that I had most wanted to see. It’s not as if I hadn’t been close to seeing one. Supposedly there had been one in the bush in the Mara, feasting on an antelope that it had just killed. Alas, it had remained too well hidden for my eyes and so I couldn’t count it.

On leaving the Mara, I had decided that I wouldn’t likely see this most elusive of Africa’s big cats. It was only by chance that I had decided to head to Lake Nakuru national park; a region renowned for both Black Rhino (critically endangered) and, to my excitement, the leopard. Just two hours north of Nairobi, it seemed an unlikely place to meet this solitary, beautiful and shadowy creature. The safari didn’t start well. For the first hour or so, all that was seen were baboons; a staple of even central Nairobi’s highways. I began to feel myself disheartened.

Then it happened. A fellow safari vehicle in convoy thrust a pair of binoculars into my hand, pointing towards an inconspicuous baobab tree 30 metres away. Frantically searching the branches I finally stumbled across my prize. There, in the tree, lay a sleepy tom-cat, not more than two years old (or so the driver told me). To the naked human eye, he would have remained completely concealed. To date, this remains one of my most special animal encounters in Africa. I had managed to see the leopard: one of Africa’s most striking yet shy creatures.

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4 thoughts on “The Leopard

    • One of the easiest places is the Sabi Sand Private Reserve off the Kruger in South Africa but it’s always so much more rewarding when you have ‘worked for it’ in trickier places. We were incredibly lucky to spot two in Uganda on our honeymoon – it was my husband’s first time in Africa so he didn’t know just how lucky he had been. One of my colleagues was brought up in Malawi and hadn’t seen one until we caught a tiny sweeping glimpse in Tanzania.

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