When it comes to finding leopards, there is always an element of luck. There are times when you drive around the corner and there is a leopard walking down the road towards you. While these ‘lucky’ sightings are not uncommon, the bulk of the leopard sightings that we enjoy here at Londolozi come as a result of persistent tracking, good teamwork, boat-loads of patience and, as always, a dash of luck. I am a firm believer that understanding the process of tracking and finding a leopard provides deeper insight into the life of a leopard and it is that understanding that makes leopard sightings so amazing.
Recently I was fortunate enough to a drive frequent visitor, Ted Swindon, who also happens to share the afore mentioned belief. Ted was staying at Londolozi for a fortnight and he was hoping to find certain leopards that he had seen many times before on previous visits as well as any new individuals. With a solid plan and the luxury of time, we set off into the bush for twelve days of looking for leopards.
An inquisitive young male that has been pushed further north by the Senegal Bush Male.
Leopards are beautiful creatures and there is something very alluring about these elusive animals. While they are amazing merely to look at, I believe it is also the leopard’s solitary lifestyle and secretive habits that attract us to them. People come to Londolozi from all over the world to get a chance to see a leopard in the wild and we as guides do our best to oblige. For many of our repeat guests, it is the stories and lineages of the individual leopards that keep them coming back to Londolozi year after year.
During our twelve days of searching for leopards we were able to focus our efforts on tracking specific leopards. Our methodology was simple; head into the leopard’s territory and begin tracking. There were days when we found fresh tracks straight away that lead us to the desired leopard and then there were times when we spent hours tracking without any luck. Time spent in the bush is never wasted and it was on these days that we returned back to camp empty-handed that we could reflect on the things we learned while being out tracking in the bush.
One of two sisters born to the Nhlanguleni female, both of whom made it to independence, the first intact litter to do so in 7 years.
Of the many small lessons I’ve learned whilst out tracking in the bush, there were three in particular that stood out to me more than ever:
1. Enjoy Nature’s Many Offerings
The pursuit of leopards cannot be practiced without observing the bush in its entirety. Everything in the environment around can provide a clue as to the whereabouts of the leopard in question. The process of stopping and meticulously scanning the surrounding area, listening to the sounds of the bush and allowing yourself to be still in the natural environment helps you to fully appreciate how amazing it is to be in such a unique wild place. Not only will you find more leopards this way but you may also catch sight of a rare bird or discover a newfound appreciation for a simple tree or even just enjoy a moment of tranquility in nature.
2. Realising That The Life Of A Leopard Is Tough
Tracking a specific leopard is different to just seeing one. The task of finding a certain leopard involves spending meaningful time exploring that leopard’s territory, following the very same paths that the leopard walks. After a while you become immersed in the story of the leopard and you can begin to imagine what it might feel like to have to fend for oneself in the unforgiving wilderness. Should you eventually spot this elusive leopard you would have cultivated a deeper level of appreciation for it having spent time searching for it.
3. Intimate Leopard Sightings
Having gone through the hard work of tracking a leopard, you would have undoubtedly picked up some clues as to what the leopard was up to over the last few days. The feeling you get when you eventually find the leopard that you have been searching for is immensely satisfying. Viewing a leopard that you have toiled hard to find connects you to that animal. As you watch the leopard go about its daily life, you feel privileged that this animal has allowed you to be near to it. The knowledge of how difficult it is to find a leopard forces you to appreciate just how special these secretive creatures really are.
This female is a success story all in herself, being born as a single cub to the Dudley Riverbank female in early 2012.
By the time Ted left Londolozi, we had tracked and found 17 leopards – almost all the leopards that he had hoped to find. This experience proved to us once again that not only is tracking a very effective way of finding leopards, it also undoubtedly enhances each and every leopard sighting. In conclusion, I’ll leave you with this – it is better to have tracked and failed, then never to have tracked at all.