Did you hear the one about the Leopard?
“We’re going out to look for animals.” It was Fernando’s statement, not request. We were deep in the Kalahari, a nature reserve in Botswana. Camp had been set up for the night, and the four of us sat around a nice little campfire, exhausted from our 10 hours of driving. We were in a foreign land, trying hard to act like we knew what we were doing. I, especially, felt an obligation to act like the leader of this outfit, a mix of friends who were brave and foolish enough to accompany me on a documentary filming trip in Southern Africa.
Fernando grabbed the key fob, and yelled at me to get in the truck. I scooted into the passenger seat of the Toyota Hilux, and we left Sarah and Patrick to enjoy the fire as we went out to look for wild animals. Prohibited and foolish, we felt the need to experience the wildlife side of Africa from a firsthand perspective. It was pitch black, a cavernous night sky that held constellations I wasn’t familiar with. The diesel truck quietly sputtered down the dirt two-track, and we scanned the horizon with the headlight high beams, hoping to catch some wild and exotic beast on the prowl. For the first 20 minutes it was rabbits and other small creatures, scurrying across the road. We thought it might be a bust, a fool’s errand to look for predatory animals so close to our camp.
Soon, however, we rounded a bend and saw a dark lump in the road. We ground to a halt, dust rising in the glare of the headlights.
“A hyena?” I asked, palpably excited.
“Dude! What is that?!”, Fernando exclaimed.
We crept closer, foot by foot. The dark lump moved, and we saw it was stalking prey.
“Oh my god… is that? That’s a LEOPARD!” I said in a high-pitched squeal, all of a sudden thrilled to be in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. Fernando replied with an excited, guttural laugh, and he started snapping photos of the cat, still hunched low, her eyes pinned on a rabbit.
As the Toyota pulled forward, the chase began, and we watched in the headlights as the leopard darted after the rabbit, who scurried into the grasses, at breakneck speed. The leopard gave quick chase, but stopped as she noticed our glare. At this point, we were within a mere seven or eight feet of the cat, close enough to see its breathing. I grabbed the camera out of Fernando’s hand, and shot the following close up.
It was an intoxicating moment. Raw and wild, albeit from within the safety of a vehicle. It cemented my love for Botswana, a rare and beautiful place.
Soon after snapping this photo of the beautiful cat, she ran off into the night, and we too returned to our camp, giddy and smiling. A memorable night.