Leopards are like buses

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Phil Clisby takes his family on an adventure into the Zambian bush

Leopard, South Luangwa National Park, Zambia“Not another elephant – we’ve seen three already,” exclaims my six-year-old son dismissively. We’ve barely been at Flatdogs Camp thirty minutes, and haven’t even made it to the entrance of South Luangwa National Park yet, and he’s already elephanted out.

Just inside the park gate, we come across four lionesses. “They are from a nine-strong pride,” our guide Jonathan informs us. “They killed a hippo just around the corner three days ago.” They look like they have just finished it off, and are panting heavily in their quest for some shade. Sure enough, around the corner are the hippo’s remains, vultures pecking at the last bits of its skin.

We drive on, much to my son’s disappointment, who seemed fascinated by this macabre scene. A little further on, Jonathan stops. “There’s some impala,” he says. “See the McDonald’s ‘M’ on their bottom?” He points out the peculiar black markings on the impala’s rear: “Fast food for leopards,” he says. Again, this seemed to capture the boy’s attention – the thought of a chocolate milkshake, rather than an antelope though, I’d wager.

Talking of leopards, ever since I first set foot in Africa 23 years ago, I’ve wanted to see one… and I’m still waiting. The day turns to dusk, as we enjoy some sundowners watching the sunset over the Luangwa River. Returning to our vehicle we set off on a night drive. Victor, our spotter, trails his light in a sweeping arc over the surrounding undergrowth. Two eyes reflect back at us. We stop. Leopard. Two of them! “They are brother and sister,” whispers Jonathan. “They have met up for a drink and now they will go their separate ways again.”

We watch them for a while, until they head off into the bush. Not much later, we come across another leopard. And this one has the carcass of a freshly killed impala with him. “He will have ripped out the intestines to make it lighter, so that he can drag it up the tree,” explains Jonathan. “He will then have buried them, so as not to alert the vultures.” As if on cue, the leopard hauls the impala up the tree in what seems like one easy bound and settles down for a hearty meal.

I don’t know; you wait 23 years to see a leopard and then three come along at once.

Phil and his family stayed at Flatdogs Camp, South Luangwa National Park

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