Guide books say the best way to see the South Luangwa National Park in Zambia is with an experienced guide, either on a drive or a bushwalk, so we went on a sunset drive from Croc Valley campsite.
Boy, was I glad I didn’t say anything! It turned out the call was from our camp’s other guide who had spotted a leopard in a tree and was explaining exactly where it was. No CB radios are allowed in the park, so a cell phone call is the only way for guides to communicate.
Duncan anticipated where she would go next, freeing us of the other three vehicles also watching her. He took a wide arc and came back ahead of the leopard, and waited for her to approach. She did. She was so close I could hear her growling and coughing quietly to herself as she fixed her gaze on a small herd of impala not far away.
‘No,’ laughed Duncan. ‘She and I are friends, she doesn’t worry about us like the other leopards. They just run away.’ Not that she wasn't an entirely wild leopard, just an unusually tolerant one.
It turned out that she had two cubs stashed somewhere nearby. Although we didn’t get to see them, another self-drive couple had seen them the previous day. Knowing she had cubs to feed tipped the balance in her favour: normally I’m as concerned for the prey’s safety as I am for the predator to nail her kill. Not this time; there were cubs to feed and plenty other impala in the park.
With such a thrilling leopard sighting, we reckoned our guide had justified the price of our drive. Now it was dark, our spotter leapt into action, flipping the bonnet of the vehicle and attaching the two naked wires of his spotlight directly into the engine’s battery.
We took off again and he swept the spotlight from side to side, seeking out more to show us. Flushed with excitement about the leopard, we cheekily put in our orders for a porcupine and an aardvark.
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