The growl of the leopard

The growl of the leopard

BY: Annie DuPre, FGASA NQF2, Apprentice Trails Guide and Bushwise Copywriter

The first growl was so faint, I thought it was the wind. 

I rolled over in my sleeping bag, trying to block out the sound. 

The second growl was clear.

I bolted upright in my tent, listening carefully, trying to distinguish that uniquely cat-like sound from the rustling leaves and cracking branches taking strain from the wind. 

There it was again. Definitely a cat. Probably a leopard.

“Brad – are you awake?”

I heard his non-committal grunt. 

“Brad – there’s a big cat out there.”

We both unzipped our tents and stepped into the moonlit night, looking past the electric fence that kept us separated from the African bushveld. I could just see Brad shaking himself awake, reaching for the torch he kept on a table outside his tent. I made my way towards him, hyperaware that a two-metre fence was all that stood between us and one of the most dangerous carnivores in the world. 

The leopard growled again – I picked up my pace.

Reaching Brad’s side, I stared ahead into the darkness, following the glow of his torch as we scanned for our feline visitor. 

“There,” Brad gestured with the light. Two eyes illuminated in the rays, glowing red and staring into our souls. The leopard couldn’t have been more than 20 metres away. Knowing that a leopard can bolt at nearly 60kph – well – it wouldn’t take long for this one to be on us. Thank goodness for fences.

“Something must have aggravated him,” whispered Brad.

Our resident male leopard, whose tracks we saw wandering past camp nearly every morning, certainly looked a bit aggravated tonight. I tried to comfort myself that he wasn’t growling at us, asleep inside our tents, just a few moments ago. Surely there was something else going on. 

Brad and I settled into our camp chairs and watched the leopard. He paced for a minute or so, before turning his back on us and continuing his nightly ritual. And with his departure, it was time to head back to my tent, and reflect on how I, an American girl from Texas, found myself in the African wilderness, at night, facing down a leopard.

A male leopard glaring from a rock

From policy to conservation

I moved to South Africa in 2015. At the time, having just finished my Masters in Global Policy Studies, I was out to change the world one policy brief at a time. I soon found that hours behind a computer screen, studying political leaders and analysing legislation, just wasn’t my dream. In fact, I was miserable. 

I’ll join ranks with everyone who has ever been on a safari to say this: African wildlife is mesmerising. Being in an open-air game viewer, driving through the bush and spotting animals, is the best thing in the world. Seeing lions, leopards, hyenas, elephants, giraffes, and hundreds of birds you’ve never seen before, is enough to convert even the least outdoors-friendly person into a lover of wildlife. 

So one day I asked myself the question that all Bushwise students at one time asked themselves: “Could I become a safari guide?” I imagined myself behind the wheel of a safari vehicle (I didn’t even know how to drive a manual), cruising down dirt tracks, showing guests the landscape, spotting elusive animals, observing wildlife behaviour, and making lifelong memories in the African bush. I started researching ways to make this hypothetical vision a reality. 

A leopard in a tree

Sometimes dreams stay just that: dreams. You wake up one morning and splash water on your face and tell yourself to embrace reality. It’s a ridiculous idea, Annie, one that can’t really come true. At the time in a place where I was comfortable. I was in a relationship and living and working in Johannesburg. From the outside it certainly looked like I should stay put, not disrupt the status quo. 

So what did I do? I signed up for a field guiding course and I didn’t look back. 

As a foreigner, joining a field guide (or safari guide) training course is not only an incredible career move. It’s also one of the most eye-opening experiences you’ll ever have. You’ll be exposed to things that challenge your way of thinking, the way you understand the world, and the things you prioritise. You’ll study with people from all over the planet, who help you grow in transformative ways. You’ll find a whole new value in nature and wildlife. You’ll become a spokesperson for animals, defending those who have no voice. 

And you’ll want to share your knowledge with others – not just to educate them, but to connect with them – to show them how we play an essential role in protecting our one and only planet. You’ll have an overwhelming desire to protect species – from the tiniest insects to the largest elephants. Our ecosystems thrive in balance. We humans often throw that balance off, and it’s our role to bring it back to centre. 

A leopard looks across the bush

Training to become a field guide will change your life. And you don’t have to actually work as a guide for this to be true. I’m an example of that myself. I did not use my training in a traditional sense. I never worked at a lodge. Instead of guiding, I went to work for a conservation organisation. And then another. And now, I work for Bushwise Field Guides as a senior copywriter, while pursuing a Masters of Science in Conservation. 

I’m continuing my dream of living a life connected to wildlife. It’s possible for you, too – all you have to do is make the leap. Pretty soon a leopard’s growl, or a lion’s roar, or an elephant’s trumpet, could be waking you up. 

Are you keen to change your life and study to become a field guide? Apply today – it’s the first step in your career journey.