August is the dry season in the Kruger National Park. The trees are almost bare and the ground is a dusty peach and grey. Everyone will tell you that it’s the best time to spot the animals, with few waterholes available and little bush cover to hide behind.
The best time, but not an easy one when it comes to spotting the leopard. Elusive and solitary, they often only appear at dusk when they creep through the undergrowth as silent as the still night air.
The determination of Joe-Joe, our guide from Outlook Safaris, was undimmed. Virtually impossible to spot or not, and time running out before the Skukuza Park’s gates would close for the night, he shouted back to us over the din of our jeep: “I’m now looking for a leopard.”
Despite the incredible things we had already seen over our four-day trip, I had my doubts.
And then he brought the jeep to a sudden stop.
“Leopard!” he cried.
We all peered out of the jeep. This is what we saw.
“Over there, on the right!” he insisted.
Even knowing where it was, the leopard was still hidden from our eyes. Nevertheless, Joe-Joe had spotted it at twilight, despite simultaneously driving the jeep over the park’s juddery roads.
To our amazement, the leopard showed no fear of our vehicle. It delicately loped out of the undergrowth and padded towards our car.
Unhurried and unconcerned, the leopard then strolled onto the road. It waited there for a while like a jaded celebrity, suffering the public to snap its picture in the hope that it would then be left in peace to get on with the more important things in a Big Cat’s life.
Having wisely decided to return to camp after a hair-raising encounter with an elephant (of which more in a later blog), the other Outlook Safaris jeep appeared behind us, right on time. You can see their guide Kenneth also taking photos from the driver’s seat, showing that even the people who live and work in the park remain impressed by these incredible creatures.
The leopard drifted between the vehicles before slipping off into the bush on the other side of the road. Perfectly camoflagued, the animal’s flanks shivered along with the rustling leaves before it disappeared back into the depths of the forest.
This was the most extraordinary of many awesome experiences that we had with Outlook Safaris on our honeymoon. Their trips around the Kruger National Park have restored my faith in the future of our planet and the wildlife that is facing such a horrendous crisis. The whole expedition was far and away the best experience of my life.