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The leopard dance

Chad Cocking | Wildlife

One of the recent requests that we received on our Sofa Safaris was from someone asking me to do a rendition of my “famous” leopard dance.  This seemed to puzzle my colleagues that had not heard of it (clearly it wasn’t as renowned as I had thought). As a result, I decided it was well worth my time to share a version of the story with you folks.  So here is an account of how my dancing skills were put to the test.

I often go on about my lack of heart-stopping, adrenaline-pumping, macho game ranger stories; this no doubt led to my need to heavily embellish my stories of near-death experiences with frogs and cups of tea, not made by my mother.  That was until one fateful afternoon a few years ago.

Driving guests that have never been on a safari before is something that I have always enjoyed doing, as everything they see is new and exciting, even impalas!  It was a rather warm afternoon when I headed out with one such group of guests from Switzerland on their first ever safari. Things began in a relaxed fashion, stopping to chat about impalas (yes, they were excited), hippos and even some dung beetles (and yes, I was taking notes on their art of seduction).

It was as I was driving away from the dung beetles that my tracker’s hand flung up suddenly, indicating that I needed to stop…and quickly. At first I thought it was because I was about to turn a dung beetle into a pancake, but then I saw it – a large drag mark across the sand; a sure sign that something dead had been dragged away.  My tracker and I jumped off to go and investigate, but at first we saw no paw prints for the leopard that we suspected had caused the unfortunate demise of the unknown victim.  Momentarily we both questioned the possibility of it being from a crocodile, but on finding plucked hairs, we knew it was a leopard’s kill, and we knew it was close…but where?

Moving a bit ahead, but still close to the Land Rover housing the guests, we lost the drag mark in some long grass, so I turned back around, only to find the unmistakable sight of a dead impala; and in case you are wondering, living impalas don’t usually sleep with their legs up in the air, or their insides on the outside, hence I knew it was dead.  Having found the kill, but no leopard, I assumed that it was the territorial leopardess that had gone to fetch her cubs, or had simply run off on our approach (this is where I learnt the valuable lesson of “never assume, as it makes an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’”).

Job done, we headed back towards the Land Rover parked some 50m away, and for a still-unknown reason, I decided that I should go and have a closer look at the carcass. I think the term the youngsters use these days is  “#fail”.  I had no sooner taken a few steps in the direction of the carcass when the bush behind it started growling.  I immediately knew that if there were a fan nearby, there would be a load of happy dung beetles, as something was about to hit it!  I wont lie, I turned to run as the leopard came hurtling out of the bushes towards me, but as I planted my right foot in the soft sand, a little voice in my head said “don’t run, you chop”.  So, I stood there and braced myself for the impact for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was no more than a couple of seconds.  But it never came.  I reluctantly opened up my eyes and peered around to find one rather irate leopard paddling its forepaws at me from less than four feet away!

Fearing for the well-being of my legs, I began moving them up and down in a haphazard manner, while at the same time screaming and clapping my hands as loudly as was humanly possible (they are still stinging today).  To my shell-shocked guests sitting wide-eyed a short distance away, I can only imagine that this must have looked like the strangest rendition of the flamenco, ever.

Whatever I did, it worked, because just as quickly as the leopard charged towards me, it ran off into a nearby thicket, and I could stop my dance routine.  Rather casually, I turned around and walked back to the vehicle, hoping that the guests hadn’t seen my earlier attempt to turn and run away.  Fortunately, they hadn’t, but even worse for me, they had seen my dance, and I don’t think they will ever forget that sight as long as they live!

Tanda Tula - angry mating leopards on safari



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