Jan 22, 2019

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Tracking a Leopard (April 19, 2018)

Posted in : Uncategorized on by : Mike

In about two months I’ll be heading back to Botswana for another visit to the beautiful Okavango Delta. I can’t wait! But wait I must, so in the meantime I’ve been looking over a lot of my pictures and videos from my last trip there, in April 2018. One memory that stands out is the morning of April 19. That was my last morning at Kwara camp – that afternoon I would be hopping on a plane and heading to the central Kalahari to see what was going on over there.

On this trip I really wanted to see a cheetah, and G (my guide) and AT (tracking) both knew it. I hadn’t seen a cheetah so far, and they knew this was my last chance to see one in the Okavango. This morning would be a good opportunity to search for one, because I was the only guest in the truck, so they could take me wherever they thought we might find a cheetah, without worrying that we were dragging other guests to see something they might not be interested in. So as we rolled out of camp, cheetahs were the name of the game.

However, fate intervened, and within a few minutes of leaving camp AT spotted some leopard tracks. G stopped the truck and they both got out for a closer look. At this point I wasn’t sure what they had seen, but when they got back in G told me that they found leopard tracks, and that they were very fresh, and that we should follow them. I knew to trust their instincts – and I could tell they thought we had a very good chance of finding this leopard, vs an unknown chance of finding a cheetah if we drove elsewhere. When on safari, you don’t choose what you’ll see, you take what nature gives you. Plus, you just don’t pass up a chance to see a leopard, that’s all there is to it.

So we followed the tracks slowly, and I felt a calm confidence that G and AT would succeed. Once or twice they stopped the truck to look closer on foot, to pick up the trail where the leopard turned into the grass and came back to the sandy trail further ahead. When returning to the truck after one of these stops, G told me that the tracks were indeed very fresh. How could they tell? Because the leopard had walked into the tall grass, gotten her paws wet on the morning dew, and then returned to the sandy trail. The prints were therefore a bit damp, which told them they must be fresh. If they were made hours ago, maybe there would be no dew, or maybe the moisture would have dried up. Really neat to learn some of the tricks they use to determine how fresh the tracks are!

So it was not too surprising when we rounded a corner and spotted the leopard walking along the trail a bit ahead of us. G stopped the truck while AT hopped inside and they celebrated with a fist-bump. Very cool! I was also not too surprised when G told me that this was the same leopard I’d watched the day before, as well as two years prior on my first trip to Botswana.

G drove the truck around to the other side of her, where we pulled ahead and she sat down to consider what she felt like doing. We watched her for a while, and soon she walked toward us and right passed the truck, then turned and disappeared into the tall grass. We happily chose to let her go on with her morning alone. I had learned the day before that she was pregnant again, so every hunt was important. Or, as G suggested, maybe she wasn’t hunting – maybe she was looking for a nice spot to give birth to her cubs.

I was very happy to see her on my last drive in the Okavango for that trip. I didn’t know when I’d ever have a chance to see her again. Writing this now, several months later, I know that my next trip is only two months away and I’ll be heading right back to her territory (although this time I’ll be at Shinde camp again). I hope she’s doing good, I hope she has some new cubs to show off, and I hope we can find her again.

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