Seven Days in the Serengeti. Day Seven: Up Close and Personal.
It is our mission today to see a leopard, the only remaining animal on our list. Our efforts are rewarded, not once but three times.
It is difficult to spot a leopard. They tend to camouflage themselves by perching high in the branches of the trees. This is partly so they can spot potential prey, but also to be safe from the lions who would look to eliminate any competition for food and hyenas who would be all too willing to steal their kill.
A group of vehicles is clustered up ahead. That indicates they have spotted something. We join them. There, high in the cleft of a sprawling acacia tree is a magnificent spotted leopard with its kill.
It has dragged the carcass of an antelope up the tree where it is secured in its branches. The leopard is watchful, it spies a male lion in the distance. I imagine the power and the strength this beast must have to accomplish such a feat, the antelope is not a small animal and to carry it from the ground up a tree of this size seems incredible to me.
It is a magnificent animal, powerful, alert, beautiful. Shooting with a long lens we capture shot after shot. Even so, the animal is distant and we are hopeful the images will be sharp enough to crop in close.
Elephants abound in this part of the Serengeti and we watch a family as they make their way toward the shade of a large, branchy tree.
A baby leads the way under the watchful eyes of its parents.
We spy a spotted shape in the long grass and I wonder again at nature's ability to dress each animal its unique coat, providing the tools for survival.
Sure enough, it is another leopard moving stealthily through the grass toward a clump of trees. As we watch, it chooses a tree and nimbly scurries up the trunk, finding a perch high in the canopy where it is afforded a 360 degree view.
It is mostly obscured from us, so we continue on our way. Maybe we can catch it from another side.
As we make our way, twisting and turning along the trail, we round a curve in the road. There, under the shade of a sausage tree is a pride of lions - several females and their cubs. We round the curve and stop. Our jeep is the last in the group and we a stop parallel to the lions. They are right on the edge of the road, not ten feet from our open windows.
Looking out, I am eye to eye with a female lion. She looks straight back, her eyes like liquid gold. There is no recognition or acknowledgement. I remember our guides telling us that they do not see life inside the vehicles, just the shape of the vehicle. That does not stop the hair on my neck from standing up. Slowly I raise my camera putting a barrier between those yellow eyes and mine.
For a few more minutes we watch the cubs play and the lions remain, unfazed, in their shady oasis. The females are watchful of their energetic young who eventually settle next to their mothers, who nuzzle and lick them as they doze off.
Family is family, even here.
Following around, we come to the area where we left the leopard obscured in the treetop. We are hopeful it is still there and we are able to get a better vantage point from this side. Edging nearer than we should probably be, we are almost under the tree. There it is, still high in the branches. We assume it is the same tree and the same leopard, but can not be certain.
The cat is sprawled among the branches. We pull as close as we can until we are almost directly under it, praying it doesn't decide to drop down for a visit, or some lunch.
Our time in the Serengeti is drawing to a close. Early the following morning we make our way to the airstrip where we will catch our charter flight back to Arusha.
But, our adventures are not quite over.
En route we stop for a few more photos. A herd of elephants is advancing toward us, set to cross just ahead of us. Opportunity! We stop and watch as they come nearer. They pass directly in front of our lead jeep, stop and circle around, looking square at the vehicle. For a moment we thought it might charge the vehicle, but it slowly turned and ambled off.
One more adventure, just to make sure our journey is memorable....
We are approaching the airstrip when we encounter another group of lions sprawled alongside the road. Several wander in and out among our parked jeeps.
It is hot and there is no shade in sight. The lions see the big dark shapes of the jeeps. They are probably praising the lords of the lions for sending them shade.
As we watch, two lions come directly toward us, heading right toward our vehicle and the shady spot beside it. As we watch the first lion strolls directly beneath my open window, where it drops down and lies, unbothered, in the shade of the jeep. I could literally reach out my window and touch it (Not a good idea!)
Farewell Serengeti! We finally arrive at the airstrip where we board our plane back to Arusha where we will bid our good-byes to our new friends. From here Shelda and I will hop another plane and head to the exotic Spice Island of Zanzibar for a few days of rest and relaxation.
Come With Me.......