Whether it be as a guide, a well-seasoned safari goer, a first timer or an avid birder, we all have a list of things we really wish to see.
These first time sightings of any animal or bird are locally known as a “lifer”. At a very young age I was first exposed to a sort of “lifer-club”. Growing up on a farm in the miombo woodland regions of Zimbabwe, which is home to a few endemic birds such as the Spotted creeper, Green-backed honey bird, Cinnamon breasted tit, Miombo Rock thrush and Cabanis’s Bunting, my darling Grandmother (being a twitcher (avid birder)) would often have people travel from all over the world to our tiny little rural town, with the hopes of seeing a handful of these aforementioned ‘lifers’.
This is where it began for me.
Pretty close to camp there is a truly magnificent tree that we often drive past. It is a combination of two types of fig tree; a knobbly fig (Ficus sansibarica) with a Common Strangler fig (Ficus burkei) growing around it. I always find myself glancing into it as I bumble past, with a strong desire to one day see a leopard lounging around on the large horizontal branches, sheltered from the sunshine by the dense green canopy of leaves.
Late one morning we were fortunate to receive news that one of the rangers had found the Ximungwe young male sleeping in this very tree…
It was a no-brainer, we had to go, but when we arrived the leopard was sleeping in a pretty tricky place to get a good view. So we waited, hoping for him to move.
Ambient temperatures soaring into the high 30’s Celsius (95 plus Fahrenheit), but sheltered under the dense fig tree canopy it was bearable for us. With no signs of anything changing after about 30 minutes, we decided to return to camp for breakfast.
Our plans were to start the afternoon drive by going past to see if anything had changed. With it being such a warm day, the chance of him doing anything were pretty slim, and lo and behold, he was still there! He was off the ground, safe, in a sheltered, shady, cool spot.
Now nestled up in the main fork of the tree, our view of him slightly obscured by a few guarrie bushes in the foreground but nonetheless it was amazing to see.
Once again the waiting game began, to see if he may move. After a day’s patience we were rewarded as we saw him wake up, move around a little and reposition himself.
A leopard will often begin to groom itself and yawn a few times in short succession as a precursor to a period of activity. It had not cooled down quite significantly and, as evening was approaching the chances of any activity were increasing.
Every day here comes with its surprise, especially as a ranger.
Now that I’ve ticked one of my trees that I’ve always dreamed of seeing a leopard in, it’s time to move on to the next 50 or so that are still out there, waiting to have a spotted cat in them as I drive by,,