We had not gone far from Linyanti Tented Camp on our morning drive – perhaps an hour or so. The sun created a soft beautiful light with a tinge of gentle warmth that thawed out the cold memories of dawn. With his precision vision Lazarus spotted a young leopard lying with its back to us, its head and front paws just visible over the top of a termite mound. Cautiously we drove a bit closer and then settled to watch this magnificent animal. At first it was not clear whether it was a male or a female, but given the small size, it was agreed that it must be a female. Perfectly she posed for the camera, captivating the lens with her beauty and poise lazing against the termite mound as if it was a silk chaise lounge.
After a while she stood up and turned around, at which point it was obvious ‘she’ was actually a ‘he’. Hmmm, said all of us… interesting… a young male cub who was a real showman. And what a show he gave us. The area transformed into a playground. Fallen trees became jungle gyms that he eagerly, but yet somewhat clumsily at times, leapt from one to the other. Then he looked up the trunk of a very tall and dominating leadwood. We also looked up and wondered if he was going to punch a bit too far above his young weight. Almost as if dared, he leapt up the trunk with such lightness and agility, up and up till the height made me dizzy.
Too playful to rest, he then just as skillfully made his way down to the base of the tree when, remarkably, he discovered his tail. It was like he just met a friend. He spun around a few times until he caught up with it, grabbing gently with his piercingly sharp teeth. He then tried to stand on it with his paw, but it seemed to pop up and escape as if it operated independently from his body. He was fascinated and we giggled as we watched the silly boy play with his tail – we were having as much fun as he was having.
He decided he was thirsty so he slunk off carefully and cautiously to the water’s edge. Pausing a moment to check for danger, and to select the least vulnerable spot for a drink, he approached and then bent his forearms to tuck his elbows against his ribcage and hover his torso just above the ground in a lowered push-up position while he drank.
He moved off as if returning to his playground. We had to re-position the vehicle which took us out of line of sight; we approached the playground area again, but it was empty. As quick as that he had disappeared, as if into a puff of smoke. The show was over. Later that afternoon we passed the playground again and there was not a sign of him. Our entertaining encounter with this young playful chap was just a glowing memory now.