A bark at sunset

We were in the Okavango Delta, on the edge of an island of woodland overlooking an open floodplain, sipping cocktails and enjoying the changing sky; the evolving russets, oranges and reds of the sunset.

I was with a wonderful family from California – three generations, so there was quite a lot of activity around the drinks table and 4×4 safari vehicles. Safari guides were seeing to the drinks and discussing recent animal sightings. Parents were reminiscing about their childhood together, while some of their children played tag, using the vehicle as a climbing frame. Others, recently married or involved in relationships were bonding with their “in-laws”. The grandparents were enjoying the whole scene of the family reunion in one of the wildest and most special parts of the world.

All of a sudden we heard a loud bark, followed by the most primeval snarl coming for the other side of the woodland.

It was a sound that required no instruction from the guides, no call for quiet, and no need to point where the sound emanated from. Instinctively everyone knew that the snarl was a large cat, and everyone knew they should be silent.

We jumped into the vehicles signalling for everyone to follow suit, not for reasons of safety, but to satisfy our desire to see, explore and learn – to answer the where? what? and why? questions. The initial bark was an impala’s warning call, and the snarl was a less common leopard call.

We did not drive more than a minute, just to the other side of the bank of trees, to see a herd of impala all pointing directly at a large male leopard who was sauntering along the edge of the plain with his tail raised in a flag (the underside and tip of the tail is conspicuously white) signalling no intention to hide and hunt. Why the snarl?

A bit more searching through the bushes in the direction the cat was headed revealed a second leopard, a female, actually walking directly towards our bush cocktail bar! We warned the waiters by radio to board a vehicle for their safety and to not frighten the animal. The leopards had been mating, and the sound was a snarl from the interaction between the two.

We followed them for a while using spotlights, and then considered their right to some privacy, to live their lives undisturbed, and so we headed to camp overwhelmed with wonder by what we had witnessed.


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