This post is a continuation of The Roadtrip that Roared series, following #12 Mana Pools Monkey Games.
One evening, we were driving back to the lodge after an afternoon out in the park, where we’d seen scores of impala, some zebra, uncountable birds, and had walked along beautiful tree-lined animal paths. Our truck came to an abrupt halt – an elephant was blocking the road. He was eating from a bush, but had positioned himself across the width of the dirt track that was our only route home. There were two trucks waiting on the other side of the elephant too, trying to get to the camp behind us. This also happened to be the most vehicles we’d seen during our stay. We were in a true bush traffic jam. How could an elephant know that humans needed roads, and that he was blocking ours? All he knew was that he wanted dinner at his favourite bush.
Knowing the damage an angry elephant can make, we all sat in our vehicles and waited, hoping that he would find somewhere else to eat – and soon. Off-road driving is forbidden in the park, and besides, there were trees on the side of the road which stopped us from driving around him. Even if we’d tried to squeeze around the elephant, this could have given him a fright, causing him to charge.
The sun was setting fast, and it was getting darker. Vehicles aren’t allowed out after sundown, for the animals’ as well as our protection, and we didn’t fancy the idea of navigating our way back to the lodge in the dark. For now, though, we had no choice but to wait.
Eventually it was almost completely dark and the elephant was still making no sign of movement. The truck on the other side of him eased forward very slightly and slowly, in an effort to make the elephant move, but without making him angry. The elephant turned around quickly to look at them. He seemed more surprised than concerned, and his tell-tale ears weren’t pushed out, which was a good sign. The road was now passable but the elephant was still right there, and the trucks took the opportunity to roll slowly past. The drivers could’ve reached out their hands and touched the elephant if they wanted, they were so close. This was a wild elephant though, so they didn’t encroach on his space any more than necessary. After they’d made their way safely past, we then edged around the elephant, very gingerly, as were aware he could quickly lose his patience. I couldn’t get a photo as the light was so bad, but let me tell you, it would’ve been a close up!
Phew! As we were talking about how close we had gotten to him, we saw movement in the road ahead in the truck’s headlights. A leopard! We couldn’t believe our fortune.
We stopped the truck so see if we could get a better look. The leopard was sitting behind some grass, completely still, obviously aware of our presence, but we could see her clearly. We felt so fortunate: leopards are one of the most secretive wild animals, and sightings are very rare.
To our joy, a second, smaller leopard appeared, closer to us. He sat very still next to a tree, obviously also practising his stealth skills. We did too, holding our breaths. Suddenly, as if bored of trying to be invisible, the younger leopard trotted out from the shadow of the tree. He made his way to the other one, probably a sibling or its mother. At the last metre, the younger leopard leaped into the air and pounced on the other one with glee. This younger one obviously wanted some fun, and pawed the other excitedly. The older leopard seemed very annoyed that the situation had been turned into a game, and refused to reciprocate. They slid off into the bush together, and we marvelled at the sight, feeling indebted to bush traffic jams. If we hadn’t been held up by one hungry elephant, we would’ve missed seeing the leopards, and would’ve missed seeing this playful encounter between these usually guarded creatures.
This wasn’t the end of our fortunate series of events. When we eventually got back to the lodge, we were in for more surprises… read the final post in the series: #14: The stealth of an elephant