Thursday, December 3rd
My father, Bill, had been visiting Kruger and other wildlife reserves since 1927, but by the time he turned 90 in 2000, he had never seen a leopard. That is the beauty of the South African reserves – sightings are not guaranteed, unless you are paying $1000 a night at a private game lodge (who insist that they don’t do things to keep animals in the area). Kruger is 20,000 square kilometers (8000 sq. miles) with only a minute fraction being observable from the roads. So not seeing leopards or lions or rhinoceros on any particular visit is not uncommon. But not seeing a leopard in 73 years is unusual to say the least.
For my father’s 90th birthday I put together a video, highlighting his focus on family, his career successes, his commitment to an ethical way of life, and his sporting achievements. I ended the video by asking what more could a man ask for, who had enjoyed such a full life. Of course, the answer was “to see a leopard”.
A few days later, a group of us spent nearly a week in a game farm that borders Kruger without fences – the same Ingwelala I wrote about last week. On the last day, in almost the last light of dusk, his leopard appeared, cautiously slinking through the grass to have its evening drink. It was an emotional experience for all of us. It was also the last time my father visited the bush.
Last week I was at Ingwelala with a friend who had never been to Africa before and, by coincidence, two other Americans who had been with us on that wonderful evening in 2000 when Dad’s leopard appeared. In a matter of days we had encounters with the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino), so called because hunters thought they were the five most dangerous animals to hunt.
Not only did we see the Big Five, but our leopard sighting was spectacular, as you can see. A leopard eating an impala in the open in daylight with no other predators, such as hyena, to contend with – no vultures as a distraction. Perhaps the rain that had fallen for nearly a week prevented the scent of the dead body from travelling.
None of us may see another leopard in our lives, but the thrill of the one last seen always remains.
Life is hell in Africa.