When last we heard from our intrepid travelers, they were happily photographing everything in sight at Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa. Their lodgings at Phinda's Zuka Lodge were exquisite and the food exceptional. Now we find them on a very special day.
Driver/Ranger Amy is so excited she is literally bouncing in her seat as she steers the safari vehicle through the bush. The rest of us are bouncing, too, but that has more to do with the dirt roads in the Phinda Private Game Reserve.
A ranger reported that a young female leopard appeared in a particular area with two cubs, and that’s where we are heading. For Amy, this is special. She has watched this leopard grow up and for it now to return with cubs is thrilling.
We visitors to Africa, so often gobsmacked by the array of animals and birds, sometimes forget to consider what these experiences are like for the guides. We become attached to certain animals, even though we have seen them only once. The guides often know several generations, can identify specific animals by name, especially the big cats. Perhaps the elephants and giraffes, too, but not the prey animals as they come and go and there are so many of them.
When we arrive at where the ranger saw the leopard, there is nothing there. Amy drives around the area, through openings in the sparse brush, again and again. She double-checks with Telusi about the location. He assures her this is the spot.
More circles around the brush and then—deep in a dark thicket—they spot her. It takes me a while, even with pointing fingers showing me where to look, before I see how perfectly camouflaged she is.
I see only a small part of her, but that part involves teeth gnawing on whatever she has captures and dragged into the thicket.
We drive to the other side and watch. One of the cubs is seen immediately on top of a very uncomfortable looking bush.
We spend a long time with these leopards, hoping second cub will join the two, but that never happens. The second cub is far too shy, wary of these strangers in the noisy vehicle.
|The leopard nursing her cub is a sure sign that she is not bothered by our presence.|
But, taking shots of her on top of that bush is quite satisfying.
Amy's effervescent personality bubbles over when she sees the cubs and she gives Telusi a big hug for his help in finding them.
We leave the leopards and make the mid-day journey back to camp, stopping along the way to photograph whatever appears.
We visit the leopards on another day. By this time, one cub has been dubbed Heidi, and with her sister they are known to us as Amy's grandchildren.
We don't have to search for them this time. The mother is in a tree right beside the trail and one of the cubs is draped across the branches above her. The other cub, Heidi, is in the thicket to the left of the tree where their dinner from a few days ago is getting pretty ripe.
|I think you have to be a cat to comfortable here.|