On our full day in the Serengeti plain, our guide, Johnson was intent on finding us a leopard as he was sure we could complete the Big 5 later in the week in the Ngorongoro Crater. But by sheer luck we first came upon a lioness with three cubs mere yards away – a major highlight for our entire group. We spent a solid half hour watching the cubs and photographing and marveling at our luck while more groups made their way to join us. We knew we had been lucky to happen upon it and moved along to share the glory.
By this second full day on safari we had a rhythm – all eyes spotting, many accidental sightings included. See something and yell “Stop” or “Johnson, what is that on the top of that tree?” “I don’t know, let me look. Ah, it’s a lilac-breasted roller.” “Cool. Thanks.” And Sue writes it down.
After the lioness we were off to the favorite sausage tree habitat of the leopards. Back and forth he drove stopping at anything that struck our fancy. But no leopard.
But we ended in the middle of a herd of elephants with bulls and mom’s and jousting teens and bumbling little Dumbo’s. We sat within feet of the herd as it passed us on both sides. We could have scratched their hides without fully extending our elbows. When they were that close, Johnson asked us to be quite to not disturb them. They paid us no mind as we sat just listening to the rustle of the grass, the gentle nudge of a mother and the heavy plod of their grazing journey. Blissful.
As we set off after lunch, Johnson was more and more intent on finding that leopard. When he stepped on the gas and went flying along – we knew someone had seen something. We were numbers 3-5 to arrive on the scene which ultimately grew to 20+ vehicles. With prime viewing at the sausage tree we grabbed binoculars and zoom lenses and looked for quite a while until we caught the slightest glimpse of distinctive skin tucked deep in a crotch high up in the tree hidden under the canopy.
Well shit! Not gonna get any great pictures of THAT! But…. we CAN say we saw it so that’s something. Sigh. We waited and waited but nothing was changing so we left only to end up facing a perplexing mudhole.
Johnson considered many options, called the others, got out to look at the slippery tracks and generally seemed stalled. All the while we had closed the windows and put on seat belts urging him to go for it! And then the call came in that the leopard was moving and back we raced just in time to see her hidden in the grass. DRATS!
Then she lept. Very quickly and gracefully from a standing position a good fifteen feet to a limb. And I caught it! Not in full focus but sufficient. Whooo hoo. Then, blessedly, she plopped down in full view for all of us to snap, click, change lenses, ooo, aah and gaze adoringly while she yawned and snoozed with limbs and tail lazily draped. Johnson gave us tons of time and then turned around, grinned and said, “Mission accomplished.” He, and we, were happy.