Simon and the Leopard

“How is your guide, Simon ?” asked Andy, the manager of Kicheche camp very undiplomatic ally in Simon’s presence.

“He is the second best guide in Africa,” I replied with a wink.

” And who is the best in Africa then?” enquired Simon, the tall, thin Masai in most colourful Masai warrior garb.

“No one at the moment. But you can become one if you show me a leopard” I threw in the challenge to him. “In my last two visits to Africa, I have seen everything except leopard.”

Next morning, Simon collected me from the camp and drove to about 17km towards Mara river. On the way, I saw elephants, giraffe, zebra, Impalas, gazelles, hyena, wildebeeest,ostriches, Topi, and a solitary male lion joyfully chewing the leftover.

This part of Mara had trees, rocks and looked like scenes from “Big Cat Diary” geography. Drive was gentle uphill. I saw a lot of antelopes on the hill and horizon. All was quiet when Simon abruptly left the dirt road, turned right and drove through Savannah and tall grass to a tall, thick bush about 100 yards from the road. He stopped the Land cruiser 5 yds from the bush.

“Leopard is in there,” he whispered.

I had seen nothing going in the bush. And here was the Masai, who has seen a leopard inside a thick bush hundred yards to his right while driving the land cruiser. Incredulously, I looked but saw no leopard. Simon then drove around the bush to help me see the last of the big five of Africa. Well, it took me 15 minutes of scanning, gazing, intense concentration to see just a tiny part of her. She was so well camouflaged. She was gorging on the Thompson’s gazelle she had just killed. Suddenly she got up and I saw her full and whole.

“You are the best guide in Africa, Simon,” I whispered in his ear,”Now that you have shown me the leopard.”

For full one hour, I had the leopard all to myself. I told Simon not to radio other vehicles full of tourists to come here. I made video and took countless photographs. And I was also enjoying my new Nikon D40X digital SLR. Unlike previous visits, I was not counting frames and how many more rolls of films I have got left. Just compose and press the shutter !!

The leopard kept disappearing in a hole in the ground , emerging a few minutes later. Simon told me that she has two small cubs in the hole and she goes to feed them milk.

An hour of watching, filming and fully satisfied, we left to see Mara River. I asked Simon as to how did he knew there was a leopard in the bush. He said that he saw commotion amongst the antelopes on the brow of the hill. This means a predator in or around them Suddenly he saw shaking of branches in the bush. This being leopard country, it could only be a leopard. So he drove straight to the bush. Had we arrived 5 minutes earlier, we could have watched leopard securing its lunch.

Mara River has muddy water. Where we were, it was about 75-80 yds. wide. There were a few Hippos in the water and five massive Crocodiles sunning themselves on the bank. Was there anything similar between them and bikini clad pretty women lying and sunning themselves on the beach ? The Hippos were more like potbellied middle aged men, submerged in water to hide their pout and expose only chest and head thinking they look more sexy that way, totally forgetting that pate is bald or grey and faces has more wrinkles than they think.

On return journey, our Land cruiser got stck in the mud. But we managed to pull out without asking for help. Help to stranded vehicle is more prompt in the Mara and African wilds than our own AA in England ! It has been three hours since we left the leopard. On our return, I found five Range Rovers and two Land Cruisers, full of tourists, surrounding the bush and the poor leopard. Some had camera lenses as long as two feet !!

Back at the camp at mid day, I publicly proclaimed Simon as the best Safari/game guide in Africa and paid him $20 which he rightly deserved as reward for showing me the leopard.

Now I can say that I have seen all “Big Five” of Africa !!!!

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