During my second week on the job I was sitting tracker for Vivian as I didn’t have any guests of my own. The guests we did have, however, were hell bent on seeing a cat and, despite some awesome elephant sightings, the bush often has its own plans. We covered the entire property for 3 days desperately looking for our favourite resident leopard, Saseka, or the River Pride of lions but it was to no avail. Eventually, Vivian and I decided to split up to cover more ground so I took my vehicle out as well.
Then, just as the sun was setting on the last day, I decided to scout out one last location looking for a rhino that tends to hang out in the area. At least I could find a nice sighting, if not a cat. I found some fresh tracks and hopped off my vehicle to check the direction he was moving.
He had gone down a game path towards a pan of water. Feeling buoyed, I was half tempted to follow the tracks just to see where he moved on from there – it was only about 20m. But then 10m from the car, my brain kicked in with screams of “this is a BAD idea”. I could just as easily drive round so why walk away from the safety of the vehicle, unprotected and alone. Annoyed at my logic, I got back into the car and drove to the pan for another look. I got out once again but still had no idea where the rhino was headed after the pan – he was proving rather slippery!
Back in the car, I drove another 20m or so round to the other side of the small pan, coming almost full circle when, just then, I spotted the unmistakeable white flick of a tail! Hiding at the base of a bush was a young make leopard, alert and looking in the direction I had just been walking seconds ago! Excitedly I grabbed the radio receiver to tell Vivian I’d found Spooku – Saseka’s brother – and gave myself a mental high five for saving the day. As Vivian began rushing over from the other side of the property, I kept my eye on Spooku and, adrenaline starting to wane, it slowly dawned on me that I had just walked within metres of this leopard, alone, unaware and unprotected, and he had had his eye on me the entire time! Cute and fuzzy they may be, but this leopard could easily take down an adult impala ram and is a brutal killing machine.
Suddenly I remembered my instructor’s words – you can have old guides and bold guides, but you can’t have old, bold guides. I’ve definitely never considered myself a ‘bold’ guide when it comes to walking in the bush but, even so, it’s good to get a reminder of the rules now and again…