A Rangers Perspective – The Leopard Sighting That Never Happened

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Why is is that the best sightings always happen when you are alone and there are no witnesses?

When new guests are about to experience a game drive with us for the first time, we have a little chat to our guests while everyone is on the vehicle and we let them know what the procedures will be and any safety precautions while out on the drive. A ranger will almost always ask whether there are any special interests – meaning any birders, or people who are specifically interested in botany. This gives the ranger an idea on where exactly their interests lie and so boredom can often be avoided by stopping for things that no-one has any interest in. When posing this question to guests, the ranger runs the risk of getting inundated by lists of species that each one of the guests is hoping to see.
It will go something like this:
Suitably attired first-time-safari goer: “Well I’ve never seen elephant, lion, buffalo, pangolin, porcupine, aardvark, caracal, serval, polecat…Oh! And a Leopard jumping out of a tree onto an unsuspecting Impala!”

Well half of those things the rangers haven’t seen (and they are out doing drives every single day) and the other half are only seen on documentaries after 5 years of filming. Documentaries are great for education, but my goodness they set high standards for us!

The number 1 most requested animal sighting is a Leopard. This is the most elusive and secretive cat in Africa – and there is a reason for that: The are very elusive and secretive!

The funny thing is that I have personally seen leopard out in the wild approximately 37.25 times (.25 is for the time I saw it’s tail disappearing into a bush) in the 5 years I have been living in a game reserve. Out of those sightings, I have been with other people – lets call them “witnesses” – about 22 times. Therefore the 15.25 times I have seen a Leopard without “witnesses” does not count.
That is the rule. There is however a loophole in the form of photographic evidence. BUT, the chances that your leopard sighting is long enough and fulfilling enough to get out your camera, remove the lense-cap and screw on the lenses are very very slim. These sightings are best appreciated without the help of a camera bacause they are fleeting. Your eyes will be glued and your breath stuck in your throat. These sightings will also happen while you are flying through the reserve, with somewhere to be and people to see. It will happen when you least expect it. Kind of like a UFO sighting but way cooler.

I know all this because I have done research. I have just now written a proposal to my boss on Leopard research requesting if I could please speed through the reserve for a month under the pretense of very special meetings to attend. It was turned down obviously but the reasons where apparently financial…

What this article comes down to, is that last week Tuesday I saw a Leopard. It crossed the road in front of me and it walked down along the road next to me. It was a fantastic sighting. The sun was setting behind me and the cat was lit up like a photoshopped postcard. Perfect.
Except, no-one believes me because there were no witnesses or photographic evidence.

Rhino River Lodge

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