If I were to describe my long time wildlife nemesis, my ultimate dip of dips, I would reach for a nemesis cat, not a nemesis bird. For there is no species that I had more comprehensively failed to see than the Leopard. I had, after all, been to 13 countries that were home to leopards, over the course of 14 years, of which in all but one I had been in habitat suitable for this most adaptable of big cats. I had spent six months living in suitable rainforest habitat in Uganda, and been on innumerable safari walks , drives and cruises were they might be found. Most gallingly of all, I had actually stood next to someone that saw one, jumping into a tree to escape a Tiger of all things, and failed to see it. Leopards were problem species for me.

This perhaps isn’t too surprising. The cats are, almost to a species, elusive. The only exceptions to this are the Lions, which are spectacularly unconcerned by people, and, to a lesser extent, Cheetahs. No surprise that until this year they were two of the five species of cat I had seen. The other three were the aforementioned Tiger, one of the wildlife sightings of my life, a handful of Bobcats I have seen in California and a small Jungle Cat. The latter was another lucky find, the day after the Tiger in Sariska in India, and I only located it because of a mob of Jungle Babblers that had found it first.

I finally broke this nemesis cat in Mkuze in South Africa. It was, I don’t know, maybe twenty minutes after we left Fala dying in the bush (as told last week, go read! I’ll wait). We came around a bush to see a shakey looking Blue Wildebeest calf and a large cat disappear into the bush. Obviously we had interrupted a kill, but the Leopard didn’t reappear and we had to move on (to find the rest of Fala’s pack). Still, I finally had my Leopard.

I saw three more before I had my killer encounter. Never rains but it pours, eh? But it wasn’t until I was staying at the community conservancy at Madikwe that I got my killer looks and my photographs.

leopard comingHere he comes

kitty!We positioned the safari vehicle were he was heading and he kept coming

IMG_5025What an animal!


Those paws! That tail!

IMG_5039So close!



One of the great wildlife encounters in my life

Sunset Madikwe

Afterwards the comedown. Wine and snacks in the bus as the sun goes down

GiraffeCamelopardus! Leopard camels in Madikwe

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Written by Duncan
Duncan Wright is a Wellington-based ornithologist working on the evolution of New Zealand's birds. He's previously poked albatrosses with sticks in Hawaii, provided target practice for gulls in California, chased monkeys up and down hills Uganda, wrestled sharks in the Bahamas and played God with grasshopper genetics in Namibia. He came into studying birds rather later in life, and could quit any time he wants to.