Finding Peace (A Cheetah’s Advice)

At peace.

Taking time with Ava to find peace

I was out one morning, checking up on a cheetah named Ava.

I had come to know Ava so well, I could often find her without even tracking. I knew her well enough to go directly to the area she would most likely be in, depending on the weather, how much she had hunted, and whether or not she had caught anything.

She has always been one of my closest “friends” among the wild animals. Ava probably taught me the most about myself of all the cheetahs I’ve come to know.

When I found Ava, she was lying comfortably in the morning sun. Watching me. She had seen from afar. And having become so accustomed to her, and her ways, I had spotted her from a long ways as well.

I came close. And Ava purred a greeting. As she always did.

It was an extremely peaceful moment. I had Ava’s respect, and she had mine. And so with her, I knew I could squat down where I was, and she would not be bothered. As I did, Ava shifted to a even more laid back position. And for a few moments, we both had our own thoughts. Observing the awakening world around us.


It can be a extremely difficult task to reach a point of feeling at peace with yourself. Especially when, all around, you are constantly being overwhelmed by negativity coming from others or unpleasant happenings and circumstances.
The issue tends to be, we as individuals think we can control others and events.
We think can convince others to change their ways, that if we just keep trying, they will finally listen.
Problem is, no matter how nasty and truly wrong another person might be, we cannot simply change them.
We can’t force them to stop.
We can’t force them to change. 

But that’s not our job anyway. 

This does not mean we have to cease giving guidance and advice where needed, or love. But it’s not our job to just give these things because it’s demanded.
It’s our choice. 
No one should force us to give these things.
So we should never force others to give these things either.
Or to simply change because we want them to.

Finding peace with yourself means you can except what you can do, and what you cannot force to change. Life is going to happen whether you except it or not. But how you live your life, and the choices you make while you live, is ultimately your choice. 

You can make a mistake.
Guess what? It’s actually ok.
Because you can choose to fix it. 

You can be successful too.
And you can choose to enjoy it.
This is also ok. 

My very first morning with Ava

From day one, I observed how at peace Ava was with herself.
There was no action or circumstance that ever had an effect on her. Because she knew herself.
She knew what she could control. And excepted what she couldn’t. When she missed her prey, she excepted the outcome and tried again. 
And it was her choice.
When a new cheetah entered her territory, she faced it, and then they both went their separate ways. 
She excepted the circumstances that could not be changed.
And even when Ava was relocated and released onto a brand new reserve…I will never forget how she stepped out of the crate, took everything in around her…and made her choice to except it.
And keep living.
And to be at peace with it.

The last day I saw Ava, released on a new reserve to begin her final journey as a wild cheetah

Of Love and Lions

I was on my first date.

With my first boyfriend, (and still the man I am in a relationship and SO in love with today.)

Enslin is a field guide from South Africa.

We met at the reserve we both worked on.

So for our first date, I accompanied him on a game drive for the morning.

Amber rays of the sun

It had been a glorious morning. The rising sun giving off rays of deep amber light across the Karoo.

We took the guests to search for the rare Black Rhinos. And along the way, we each gave interesting stories and facts on the wild world around us.

Gold morning

We tracked the rhinos for awhile, but there was nothing to be found. So instead, we decided to look for lions. And this proved a better call.

We found four lions lounging in the sun together, overlooking a dry river bed.

It was simply a stunning morning, the sun was warm and golden in a sapphire sky. The grass, bushes, and flowers were covered in sparkling dewdrops, as if the stars had descended from the heavens.

Cheery birdsong filled the slightly cool, crisp air.

And they guests all enjoyed the magnificent scene before us.

One of the female lionesses arose after awhile, stretched and yawned, and padded slowly towards one of the big male lions.
She came up to him, they both looked each other in the eyes for a moment, and then touched noses.
The female rubbed her head across the male’s face in a kind gesture.

And then she brushed passed him and began to make her way towards the riverbed with a flick of her tail.

Almost instantly the male arose, and padded after her quickly, and gently took her tail in his mouth. As if he did not want to lose her, and they walked off together like this, perhaps this was the equivalent of lions holding hands?
I found it to be a very beautiful moment. And it made me consider love in human form…

Love may be highly unpredictable.
It may be one of the most incredibly beautiful and mysterious things in the world.

But one thing that it is not, is painful.
Love is not abusive.
Love is not cruel. 
Shaming another person and saying ‘it’s out of love,’ is not love.
Hurting another person and ‘calling it love,’ is not love.
Love will endure all things. But it is not meant to used. 
It cannot be used. 

True love will never be the cause of suffering. It will remain the stronghold THROUGH all suffering.
Love is not hardship. 
But it will ALWAYS overcome hardship. 
When I observed this male and female lion, as they paused a moment, and stared into each other’s eyes. And then touching noses, I was reminded of what love is…eternal and enduring.
It happens in single and often unexpected moment.
And in its purity, for love is certainly pure, love never fails. 

Breathe

Jasmin, taking a moment to breathe.

I had a most remarkable moment with this particular cheetah one morning…It had been a cool morning. I had been up before the sun. And after finishing up my other monitoring duties, I was on my way to check on a cheetah named Jasmin.


Jasmin was a unique individual. She had a special and quirky way of doing things. And she enjoyed her solitude. She was probably one of the most difficult to track every day, because she would hunt by walking in large circles. I had to wonder if she had trouble with her sight at times. Because she definitely did not act the same as the other cheetahs on the reserve. But it clearly was not enough to keep Jasmin from making kills. She was definitely capable of that.She also would often hide inside of thick bushes. Not underneath them like most cheetahs.

No, Jasmin would climb on top of large bushes, and crawl down inside of them. Becoming completely concealed, unless she peaked out from the top. I spent many frustrating hours searching for her at times, when I was getting to know her. But once I came to know her special ways of doing things, I began to figure out her patterns.

On this day, I found her lying beneath a large shepherd’s tree.The early morning sun shone golden open her dappled fur.
I came nearer to her, slowly. 

I was surprised because she did not move. Surely she could hear me?

Jasmin under the shepherd’s tree.

I edged closer, purposefully making loud footsteps so she would notice my presence. Still nothing. Jasmin was lying with her head up, facing the hills and valleys before us, but had her eyes closed shut. Only her whiskers twitched, as she breathed in the air. But as I came up to her, she finally opened her eyes, and gave me a slow, yet respectful, glance as I came close.

Jasmine glances at me

Then she slowly turned, and looked back out over her hunting grounds. And then closed her eyes once more. Jasmin took a long deep breath. Then released it. Her expression was one of complete, and utter relaxation. She seemed to have found a perfect state of peace.
I was amazed. For here was a wild animal, teaching the simplest, and yet so important, lesson in the world: Breathe.
Just take a breath.
It is wonderful what the air can do for your stress. For your fears. Your anxieties. When your emotions become overwhelming, close your eyes, take a breath, and live in a single moment of peace. Just one moment.
Emotions are not bad. They are entirely necessary. It how we know when we are happy or sad or scared. But allowing those emotions to control us, and make the calls on how we react is not good. Life can be terrifying at times, and we may want to allow those emotions to control us…but Jasmin is reminding us of something different…just breathe. When the rivers of emotions start to overwhelm, we just need to pause a moment and take a breath. And then, like this cheetah did after taking a moment for herself to breathe, begin your day. 

Do not take a leap into a river of fears, uncertainties, and anxieties without taking a breath first. You may yet have a swim before you, so take a second to breathe.

Laugh, Says the Cheetah

Laugh.


It had been quite a day, I was feeling weary and scattered. But I still had to check on two more cheetahs.

These two cheetahs were brother and sister, they would soon be old enough that they would split and go on their own ways. But not quite yet…

They both followed a pattern in their territory, they would hunt and make a kill, then climb one of two mountains in their land. Until they became hungry again, and then would descend the mountain to hunt.

Today they were on top of one of those mountains.

I hiked up to the top, knowing them well enough that I would be able to find them if I just kept going.

I was quite exhausted when I did find them, both lying together in the shade, watching me with lazy interest.

The two of them rolled about, stretching, yawning, cleaning each other, and eventually playing with each other a bit, though rather lazily.
I had to laugh. They were both so relaxed and carefree. And as I laughed, I realized how important that moment I’m had been for me.


Find something in every day to make you laugh, you will find your life increases because of it.
This cheetah may have only been yawning when I took this picture, but in this simple action, he did two things…
He made me laugh.
And the fact that he “looked” like he was laughing, made me consider the importance of laughter…
Something we can learn simply by observing the nature around us, though the animals may not always realize it, sometimes the little things they do can bring us laughter.
So take a moment in every day to find something that makes you smile.
Humor is a beautiful thing.
“A cheerful heart is a good medicine…” Proverbs 17:22

Overcome. The Cheetah’s Message

Ivory, and his example of overcoming.

Overcome.


This cheetah was living a life in chains. He was chained to the ground. Forced to be petted by hundreds of people a day.

He did not know his mother. He was taken from her as a cub. And thus he was never taught how to hunt by her.

He was destined for a life behind fence. A life behind bars.
But then, this cheetah, whose name is Ivory, was given another chance at life…

He was released into the wild.


Experts said he would never be able to hunt. It was impossible. Because he never had a mother to teach him.

They said, he could never be wild.

It was a hot afternoon, I was out monitoring, and was looking for Ivory.

Deep in the thick bush, I found him.

He was a huge cheetah. Most people were nervous of him. He was very powerful. And I had seen him charge several men before. Though with me, he was always very calm. I believe because I showed him respect, and simply remained very calm when around him, it gave him the sense that, me being there, was totally normal. And thus he had no reason to have a reaction to me.

I also never went to close to his food.
So eventually, Ivory knew me to be an “Acceptable human”.
He would allow me quite close.


So when I took this image, Ivory had just made a kill. And as he tore into his meal, I watched his absolute ferocity. His most certain strength. How could anyone look at the magnificent example of power, and not see how incredible he was.

And as I was thinking this, marveling at his beauty and strength, he paused for just a moment, and looked into my eyes…

It was almost like he knew what I was thinking, and in his eyes he seemed to say, “I will always overcome.”

This magnificent cheetah did not doubt his ability to overcome all things.

So I believe Ivory is sharing a message to the world:

Your current circumstances may have you feeling trapped, chained, and behind bars.
All those “experts” and “judges” who seem to be good at declaring your wrongs, yet refuse to see their own, may be telling you what you are. Who you are.
What you cannot do.
What you can never be.

Ivory


But if a cheetah can prove wrong the naysayers, and rise above the darkness of current predicaments, you can too.
Challenges are a part of life. But we can overcome all things. We are built to succeed.
And Ivory is a perfect example of this.


Ivory is a fully wild cheetah.

He is living free at Amakhala Game Reserve.
And is a father of two cubs. And sure to be a father of many more magnificent cheetahs in the future.

Moments With Wild Cheetah Cubs

Trying to grab my back pack strap, but was surprised when I caught him in the mischievous act

In this picture, one of the cubs I enjoyed monitoring the most, was caught in the act of trying to grab my backpack strap! Note his look of surprise that I caught him sneaking up from behind.
This little cub was certainly the most mischievous and brave of his brothers.
He was one of four brothers. And his mother was a beautiful first time mother cheetah named Catja.

It was part of my job to monitor this family every day.

Catja, the mother cheetah, would sometimes bring all four of the cubs close to me, when they were being particularly energetic and noisy, and she would then leave them with me and go off hunting on her own for awhile.
Catja and her cubs had come to know me well, and I them. Catja was a very clever mother, and she trusted me to the extent that, she knew I was human, and other predators will not bother humans. And thus, she knew if her cubs were alone with me, they would be safe.

So when she needed to hunt without the noisy cubs, and I happened to be out monitoring on foot, she would bring them to me.
I guess she also figured I would be a good distraction for her naughty youngsters!

Catja bringing her cubs to me for babysitting

Telling her cubs to stay, Catja would come up next to me, look me directly in the eyes for just an instant, and in this passing glance, I could see a weary gratitude. And she would pass on, disappearing into the scrubs beyond, heading towards the direction of antelope herds.

An awkward start to climbing


During these times, the cheetah cubs would chase each other, squeezing and squeezing and yowling at each other, they would climb trees, and of course, come and inspect me.

It wasn’t easy, but he got to the top

But it was this one particular cub that made it his goal in life to try and sneak behind me to try take my bag.

And eventually he did manage it.

He snagged my bag, which was empty because I had my camera with me, but it was to awkward for him to run with it. So, with his mother and brothers watching nearby with mild, but lazy interest, we had a brief tug of war for the bag. He eventually let go, but not without breaking the zipper. And then he proudly scampered back to Catja, who gave him a couple quick licks, and then rolled over to sleep.

I was laughing the whole time. And to this day, I still use that bag, and have never fixed the zipper. The memory is just to great!

After being naughty and his mother told him off, he gave her quite a look


So needless to say, this little cub certainly became a favorite of mine.


He was quite a unique character, and he never behaved this way with any other human.

He would come very close to me while I was taking pictures, so curious of what I was doing.
Walking up to me, quiet yet confident, he would lie down next to me, almost touching me, and just watch me. Sometimes, if I was focusing on something else, he would then start rolling around. Watching me all the while. And would just lay on his back, like he wanted to play. He was simply adorable! Of course he was wild, and I would never disrespect him by touching him. But his showing off certainly made it difficult!

But the most fascinating behavior of all, was he would purr at me.

Coming closer…


It was amazing. Here were these wild cubs, but because their mother knew me, and never saw me as a threat, and because I was having to check them every day, they just saw me as part of their lives.

And especially this cub.

It can only be described as an honor, and a blessing, to have meant something to these wild, beautiful cubs. To the point that one of them, would purr at me when I was around.


Now these cubs are getting bigger and bigger, soon to be adults, and they will start hunting on their own.

But I am certain they, this band of four brothers, will become as successful and powerful hunters as their mother!

The Lions at Dawn

A lion at dawn…

A young lion coming out of the shadows into the dawn.

There is much to be said for this picture.

I was out monitoring before the sunrise, the creatures of the night still sang in the darkness beneath the last stars. 
It was very dark. And very cold.

But as a milky light touched the eastern horizon, the world became alive with the songs of the morning…yet resounding above them all was the thunder of the lion’s roar.
I followed the powerful, echoing call.

And as dawn arose, giving color to the world, out of the fading shadows came the lions.

They called to one another. Young and old. Their breath came from them like clouds of smoke in the cold.

And they joined forces together again after a long night apart…

A family of lions, coming together again after a long night.

Across the earth, wherever you are, wherever your loved ones are, though the night is dark now, dawn is coming. Have faith in the light on that horizon. And like the resounding song of the lions, we will know the victory that comes with the dawn, and in this, we will always come back together again.

Whatever your night may be, keep going.

Whatever the darkness, do not stop.

For like the lions, you do not know when the dawn comes, but there is no doubt that it will.
The light is often closer than you think.

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The Night of the Leopard

One of the many things I love about Africa, is its stories. There is not one person that goes to Africa that shares a story that is the same as someone else. There are similarities in many yes, but every story is as unique as every form of life on the continent.

I recall one special, and frightening, venture during one of my numerous trips in South Africa.

I had become accustomed to sleeping outside in the Bush, beneath the light of the stars of the southern skies. Mind you, I did have the option to sleep in a canvas tent, but since the first time I slept beneath those stars, I never wanted to be ‘indoors’ again.

Left to right: Dave, an amazing tracker and a good friend, Toko, Head Ranger and phenomenal Zulu tracker and friend, Abby, who is now Dave’s wife, me, and Callum, another friend from the UK.

So in this particular camp, aptly named Bush Camp, there was a ‘kitchen tent’, and then there were about three large canvas tents, big enough to room two people each, then there was a smaller ranger tent up the hill, which, unbeknownst to me at the time, would one day become my ranger tent for a time several years later, then there was a very small stone building a little further beyond that, this was the Head Ranger’s quarters.

The Head Ranger at that time was my friend Toko, a Zulu tribesman, a tracker of legend, and certainly a character with many fantastic stories, and I am pleased to say this was my first friend in Africa, and we shared quite a few adventures together, and he bestowed in me my love of tracking, and taught me the majority of what I know.

Away from the tents, overlooking the dried up river bed, was a observatory deck. It was open, no roof, with only the branches of a boerbean tree as cover, and maybe about six plus feet off the ground. This had become my bedroom every night, with Toko’s permission.

So every evening, I set up my sleeping bag on top of the ‘sleep out deck’, readied my flashlight and headlamp, my hunting knife, and my travel Bible, and an extra jacket, as it was winter time and could get a bit chilly some nights, and thus got ready for the approaching night.

Oh how glorious it was.

Bush Camp was already fantastic, no electricity, tents, only the light of fire lit lanterns, (me and other volunteers always brought our own flashlights for personal use, but we generally only used the lanterns to save batteries), and we would cook dinner over the fire or use the stove in the kitchen, which was a gas light stove, and then around a roaring fire, all of us and Toko, would enjoy meals by firelight, telling stories, and enjoying the waking sounds of nocturnal life in the surrounding bush. This was my paradise. But I took it one step further, to be as out in the Bush as possible by sleeping on the observatory deck every night.

On this particular night, I remember  returning from a night drive with Toko, and a little ways off from Bush Camp was a waterhole, and as we passed this I noted a herd of impala, a common but lovely species of antelope, meandering around the water, and then getting back to camp, I noted another herd of impala, near the sleep out deck. None of this was cause for concern, only it was later to be a vital part of the story.

I went up onto the sleep out deck, got comfortable in my downy sleeping bag, and took a deep breath of the wonderful air. I read my Bible, I have always brought my small Bible with me, it has been through every experience with me, across the world. And if I recall correctly, that night, I read the verse, which is now my favorite verse, Daniel 6:27, “GOD sets people free and saves them, HE does miraculous signs and wonders, HE does them in the heavens and on the earth, HE has saved Daniel from the power of lions.” 

Little did I know how much this verse would illustrate my life, more than one occasion.

The night was clear and cool, alive with the gentle chorus of crickets, whilst far and wide came the songs of the Fiery Necked Nightjars, a kind of nocturnal bird reminiscent perhaps to the Whip-poor-will we have in the United States. The lively ‘whoooo-oop’ call of the Spotted Hyena would echo out of the darkness every so often, answered by its brethren from some place even further, but they were not very near camp this night. There was a clan of these hyenas that sometimes visited the camp, but tonight, their song was far away.

Turn volume all the way up, but you can hear the sound of a Fiery Necked Nightjar in the recording I took.

One could say, this was a peaceful, if not lonely night in this part of the bush, only the stars and the shadows to keep me company, and then the occasional chirping of a bat zooming by in the sky above me…yet in me, I felt the primal tapping of something approaching. The more time spent in the outdoors, the more this type of feeling becomes known, and can used. And this night I felt it strongly, that the peace was merely a peace found in the quiet of the moment, it was a fickle peace, which to the untrained, would surely give confidence in relaxing in the presence of this calm. But I had come to know the bush by this point, and the life it held, and now with this feeling, or perhaps, warning, that seemed to be tapping from inside me, I knew the night held more in store for me.

Closing my eyes, I rested, but I did not sleep…and then came the call.

It was a rasping sort of sound, a coughing almost, comparable to the sound of sawing wood. And it was far away. A mere whisper in the crisp boundless air.

It was a call I knew well, a sound which my ears had strained to hear often, yet it was the sound I had dreaded to hear the most, considering my position.

It was the song of the leopard.

Leopard call recording, I did not take this recording, but it is to show what I was hearing.

Now in the Bush Camp area, there were two leopards that I had come to know as the resident leopards. One small female, and one big male. One rarely saw either of them. Only Toko claimed to see them in their territorial wanderings sometimes, and he had warned, that every so often, they would jump on the observatory deck to get a better view of things. When it came to leopards, the general warning was to NEVER look them in the eye, they like to remain unseen, the like the idea of always being hidden. So if you where to see one, you did not look at it, try to pretend you don’t see it, but never turn your back on it. Leopards are stellar hunters, and they are highly opportunistic, and very clever, and VERY sneaky.

Leopards I can honestly say are one of my favorite mammals, I respect them greatly. But I had very little experience with them. We just never saw them, and if we did see them, it was very brief. And my feeling had been that year, that I would have an experience with a leopard. And when the rasping call filled the night, though far away, my heart turned cold. This would be the night of the leopard.

At this point it was quite late in the night. But I was wide awake and listening. It was very cold. I had my headlamp and flashlight ready, I turned on my headlamp just to take a look around…it was barely a light at all…to my dismay the batteries must have been affected by the cold, and so the light was just about dead. Only a shuddering blink of pale light, hardly brighter than the light from which the stars cast on the earth. Well, no matter, I had my back up flashlight. It still seemed to work fine. The leopard began to call again. It seemed closer now, but moving at an angle, perhaps it would not come here. Never the less, I stayed ready.

The calls came and went a couple more times, at one point I thought maybe it was moving away, until it began to sound closer.

I waited in the cold darkness, trying to use my other senses, fearful to use my flashlight and risk killing the battery when I knew I would need it.

So on into the night I waited.

And then came the call again. This time I knew for sure it was heading this way. But still, maybe…maybe he will not come this far.

I waited.

And then, there came a flurry of alarm barks from the impala group that I had seen at the waterhole. Something had upset them.

The rasping call began again. The leopard was at the waterhole.

If I had not been on high alert before, boy was I now!

The voice of the big cat chilled me as he began to call yet again, now he was just up the road.

Still I waited in the silent darkness. Do not waste the light. Keep waiting.

The impalas that had been camping near me, sharing the impending dread along side me, began to bark their alarm call. He was here.

I did not move, I was standing, my knife in one hand, and my flashlight, not on yet, in the other. I was ready. My ears strained for any sound of movement. Anything. Anything. God please let me hear it.

The very slightest sound. A quiet touch of a soft pad on a dry leaf.

I turned my light on…

Up out of the darkness came the leopard, he walked with confident certainty, straight towards me. And oh what a big leopard this was. I thought maybe it was a lioness, he was so big. But those wicked, beautiful rosettes on his pelt, the crescent curve of his tail…there was no mistaking the magnificent leopard.

His eyes gleamed like glowing embers as he came up to the deck. He turned and walked along side of it, my light remained transfixed on the great cat. He went to the boerbean tree that was next to the deck, and marked it carelessly. And in one swift movement looked up at me suddenly. It was hardly even a split second. But it was to late. Our eyes met.  Anyone who has ever had a cat, knows that certain gleam of want in its eyes. When you leave something delicious on the table. And the cat watches yearningly. With slight curiosity. You can see the thought that passes like a shadow through its mind, ‘That could be an option.’ this is when you realize you had better put what it wants away, because soon as your not looking, your cat is going to swipe it off the table.

This was the look in the leopard’s eyes, as he stared into mine.

I knew the feeling then, of what it feels like to be prey, and how it feels to be near the end of your life, to question and consider your entire life in a single instant, and wonder if it really is the end, to wonder how your family and friends will react when they hear the news…and in that same instant I sure I gained my faith in God. I felt empowered. I was given the courage to stand and face the jaws of death.

And then the leopard looked down. He broke the stare. I’ve never known any cat to break a stare. But this leopard did. And he went down in the riverbed, and cross into the shadows beyond, and his call filled the night, echoing throughout the world, declaring his pride, his fearful presence, and a warning…the warning I did not miss. The night was not over yet.

I did not sleep. Nor did I risk trying to return to my tent, it was to far away, and the leopard could still be close. I fully expected him to come back. And I had to wait until he did. Or at least until daylight touched the horizon.

So there I waited. I was getting cold, and to have had such an encounter, I felt slightly shaky, but I had to put my trust in God now, to save me from ‘the power of the lions.’ Or in my case, leopard.

The leopard continued to call throughout the seemingly endless night. He was moving away, but how could I risk going to my tent? What if he came back during those intervals of quiet? And then as he would move further away, suddenly, his call would come closer, as if he was going back and forth, taunting me.

And the all while, I did not risk using my light. Because it was dying. I only turned it on when I thought I heard something. I was so exhausted, that my mind had gone into the state in which it was going to sleep, while I was still awake. I was seeing things that were not there.

I turned on my light, and there was the leopard! Peaking out of the bushes by the tree, eyes gleaming, whiskers twitching…or was it? The leopard dissolved into leaves and shadows, it was only a dream entering the waking world. Somehow I had to keep going. I looked at the eastern horizon, begging the sun to rise earlier than usual. But it remained black, and glittering with the ever watching stars.

When dawn began to draw near, I heard a rustling near the sleep out deck. Quick as lightening I had my flashlight turned on. I was standing with my knife in hand…a Spotted Hyena jumped with fright, funny enough the reason he jumped was because as my light came on, he caught a glimpse of his own shadow and it surprised him. But he quickly regained his composure. He was sniffing the ground, and following a trail. It was the leopard’s trail, the hyena smelt along the same route by the sleep out deck the leopard had taken, carefully smelling the tree that had been sprayed, and then following the trail downward into the riverbed.

This hyena was my savior.

Predators do not like other predators. And leopard in particular will not generally risk injury, and will be more likely to avoid other predators like hyenas. So this was my chance to get back to my tent, and maybe catch a few hours sleep before everyone would have to be up in the morning for work.

It had been quite some time since I heard the leopard’s call, and the last one I heard had been a good ways off. And now with hyenas in the vicinity, it would be an ideal time to escape. So I clambered down the sleep out deck, I could hear other hyenas moving around the camp and around me, and I could feel those intelligent black eyes watching me from the safety of the shadows.

As I made my way towards my tent, I could hear a growl and snarl here and there from the hyenas, and I kept shining my light back and forth, see the glowing red eyes gleam as light touched them, they were so close. Sometimes the eyes would bob up and down, trying to remain unseen, sometimes they would retreat in the gloom, and then others would just stare, motionless at me. But a hyena will not come when it knows you can see it. Its the ones behind you that you have to watch out for. I continued to check behind me, until I made it to my tent. And oh, how the relief swept over me. Thank you Lord! God bless those hyenas…

Another leopard, not the same one I saw during the night.

the leopard’s rasping call filled the night air, and my heart skipped a beat, I felt a cold chill run through me. The leopard had been in one of the surrounding trees. He had been there the whole time. He had come for me after all. Whether I had stayed on the sleep out deck, or had gone to my tent, if it had not been for those hyenas, I see no reason why that leopard did not kill me that night. He certainly had the chance either way.

When I returned to South Africa the next year, this story had become all the more dark. Within a few months of me leaving, another volunteer around my age had gone up onto the sleep out deck to spend the night, she was supposed to have gone with her friends, and that was the only exception the game ranger in charge would make to allow her to go up there. They had to sleep out as a group. And that had been the plan. But that night, everyone decided against it, unbeknownst to head ranger, who had already retired for the night, but the girl went up anyway.

The next morning she was found dead. Eaten alive by the leopard during the night. No one had heard a thing.

The leopard was shot, having become a man-eater, and though I don’t know for sure if it was the same one that came to me that one night, I do know that I have never seen that male leopard again, yet I have seen the small female leopard that was always in the area also. There was always a small female leopard, and the big male. And since that night, I never saw him again…one can only wonder if this leopard that was shot, was the same who had come to me.

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