Spotlighting spotted cats
‘Friday PM-BOTANY REVIEW’, these words stood etched onto the board in the ‘not so functional’ whiteboard markers that never quite work properly, but always give an ounce more of ink just at the right time as if they know and thus avoid being thrown away. I have always had a passion for the bush, all things big or small, but one particular area I can never quite hold in the same regard as Ecology or Geology is Botany, especially on a Friday afternoon after a long week.
The day finally arrived and we set off in ‘Lequesha’, the name of the legendary Ed Smith’s cream coloured Land Rover to cover all the plants and trees we could find. Several floral species (and hours) later we found ourselves along the Makhutsi river at a Phuza stop grazing on some Buttermilk Ouma rusks. It was at this point that I made my intentions clear to the group that I wished to ride on the tracker seat and use the spotlight as we made our way back to campus.
Tracking is a major passion of mine and it was not the first time you would catch me on the tracker seat of the Landy examining the soil for tracks as we bumble along. As I mentioned earlier, I appreciate all things big and small but there was only one thing on my mind. I wanted to see a leopard.
The drive back was quiet with only a Scrub Hare and bushbaby. As we exited the main gate and drove through a small game area on the neighboring crocodile farm before hitting the main Harmony road back to campus. I contemplated returning to the inside of the vehicle luckily I dissuaded myself remembering that I was told “there are leopards on the crocodile farm”… at that moment!.
A quick flash of the spotlight to the right and the unmistakable spotted yellow frame of a leopard appeared. There is something special about seeing a leopard, an indescribable feeling of awe and amazement. She was very relaxed and we spent almost an hour completely alone with her before she moved off for her evening hunt.
When sitting on the tracker seat, you are totally exposed to everything around you and you become one with the bush. This was truly the feeling I had as we sat about 12 meters from the leopardess. As she looked me right in my eyes, a primitive feeling brought me right back to ‘our’ roots and reiterates that human beings are not quite at the top of the food chain.
Blog by Jamiel Malherbe