The tension was palpable. My shoulders ached from the strain and I was on constant alert. Everyone in our vehicle was excited as were our guides. We were looking for a family of leopards deep in the Okavango Delta of Botswana.
The leopard is always elusive, a major “find” on any safari. I have been on 2 others in other parts of Africa where a sighting was not to be. But here, we had fresh footprints of an adult and two cubs, so fresh we just know they were in the area.
We searched and tracked for hours that morning. Plenty of other animals and birds grabbed our attention as well- impala, kudu, baboons, giraffe, elephant, and beautiful multi-colored birds. But leopard? As excited as we were, our morning game drive ended in disappointment . So close, yet we didn’t find her or her cubs.
What I Learned for Life at this One-of-a-Kind Safari in Botswana
Learning to Read the Signs …
But here’s the thing about a really great safari like I had with Wilderness Safaris in Botswana: the guides are so good that I learned far more about life in the Delta and among the wildlife than I ever had by book or in other experiences.
I learned to look at animal behavior:
- We observed the nature of the pray.
- We went to the watering hole to look for leopard prints.
And I learned that eyes aren’t the only way to know the leopard and the cubs were in the area.
We stopped to listen as well.
- What were the birds and baboons telling us?
- Were there warning cries that indicate a predator – animal or snake is in the area?
- Were there shrieks or panic cries from various herd?
Lastly, I learned to use powers of deduction.
- What did the lack of leopard tell us? We smelled the air; was there a kill?
Appreciating the Experience
It was a fulfilling morning despite not seeing the leopard; I could have chosen to be disappointed, but I wasn’t on a scavenger hunt to earn a prize, was I?
What I took away from the experience was an appreciation of the whole scope – the botany, animal behavior, the elements that comprise the whole of animal life, and a deep, deep personal connection to the place, to nature, to the enlistment of all senses.
I felt fulfilled and transformed by the experience, not disappointed, for far away from daily life, the noises of civilization, the distractions of the digital world I depend on, I reconnected to that sense of wonder that gets lost in the “real” world.
The Leopards Are Here!
We returned to our camp for lunch and to rest in the heat of the day. My fellow travelers reflected on the morning over delicious food and a glass of South African wine. And just as we were about to disperse for an afternoon of rest and reviving in our plunge pools, our guides showed up and ask us to accompany them once more – for they had gone back out and found the leopards!
You didn’t need to ask us twice – we would endure the heat just for a chance to finish the story – what were the leopard family doing that we couldn’t spot them earlier?
Hiding in the Trees
The answer came in the trees. Leopards sleeping up among the branches, each to its own tree. And, most telling, mama was licking and cleaning herself. The leopards were on the move that morning as mama gathered her cubs from their hiding place to take them to her recent kill. We could not have smelled a fresh kill. Bellies full, now all rested in the heat of the day. Mom was cleaning herself of blood to minimize annoyance from flies that would be attracted to that.
Observing the Wonder of Wildlife!
We observed them in wonder for over an hour. And I thought, what lesson was I internalizing?
That, much as I wanted to add the leopard to my personal list of sightings, I was ok with the disappointment of not having that, for I had the thrill of clues. And this was because of the guides.
If I had just left with pictures of their footprints that told a whole story of their lives, that would have been enough. How different this was from my normal life, where I lived in the need to get things done, realize the whole picture, lay out all the specifics for me and my clients!
Could I take that feeling back into my normal life, and teach those around me the joy of the moment, not the result?
Disconnecting from the World We Know to Connect Within
Disconnecting from my world to immerse in the bigger world is a powerful experience.
I find that on a safari in Africa with great guides and the support of wonderful outfitters. I come home changed by this time in Africa this time in ways I am sure will reveal themselves in the future. My observant, in-the-moment, connected back to nature future.
My thanks to Wilderness Safaris, my host for my time in Botswana.
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