Thursday, December 3, 2009

Chance Encounters

Thursday, December 3rd

Most white South Africans have grown up with wildlife as part of their upbringing and heritage.  Even before the Anglo-Boer war at the end of the 19th century, land had been set aside for the conservation of South Africa’s wonderful fauna.  The Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s treasures was officially opened in 1926 but its constituent areas had been protected for decades.

My father, Bill, had been visiting Kruger and other wildlife reserves since 1927, but by the time he turned 90 in 2000, he had never seen a leopard.  That is the beauty of the South African reserves – sightings are not guaranteed, unless you are paying $1000 a night at a private game lodge (who insist that they don’t do things to keep animals in the area).  Kruger is 20,000 square kilometers (8000 sq. miles) with only a minute fraction being observable from the roads.  So not seeing leopards or lions or rhinoceros on any particular visit is not uncommon.  But not seeing a leopard in 73 years is unusual to say the least. 

For my father’s 90th birthday I put together a video, highlighting his focus on family, his career successes, his commitment to an ethical way of life, and his sporting achievements.  I ended the video by asking what more could a man ask for, who had enjoyed such a full life.  Of course, the answer was “to see a leopard”.

A few days later, a group of us spent nearly a week in a game farm that borders Kruger without fences – the same Ingwelala I wrote about last week.  On the last day, in almost the last light of dusk, his leopard appeared, cautiously slinking through the grass to have its evening drink.  It was an emotional experience for all of us.  It was also the last time my father visited the bush.

Last week I was at Ingwelala with a friend who had never been to Africa before and, by coincidence, two other Americans who had been with us on that wonderful evening in 2000 when Dad’s leopard appeared.  In a matter of days we had encounters with the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino), so called because hunters thought they were the five most dangerous animals to hunt. 
Not only did we see the Big Five, but our leopard sighting was spectacular, as you can see.  A leopard eating an impala in the open in daylight with no other predators, such as hyena, to contend with – no vultures as a distraction.  Perhaps the rain that had fallen for nearly a week prevented the scent of the dead body from travelling. 

None of us may see another leopard in our lives, but the thrill of the one last seen always remains.

Life is hell in Africa.

Stan (Thursday)


  1. I saw my leopard, Stan, on my very first trip to the Kruger, more than twenty years ago. I had no idea, at the time, that it was such a big deal. We had a private guide, just for Eide, our two daughters and I - and he was open-mouthed. He tried to impress upon me how rare it was, but I didn't quite get it. Now, after your story about your Dad, I do.

  2. Wonderful, Stan, and beautiful photos, too.

    I was in the Kruger for about eight days, working on a TV show, and it was just astonishing. Nothing can prepare you for it.

    Thanks for bringing it all back.

  3. Hi Stan-

    What a touching story.

    Your stories about the animals there are fascinating.


  4. Just stumbled across this fantastic blog. Lovely pictures Stan. I'm in the process of reading A DEADLY TRADE right now, so I'm already even more fired up about travelling to Africa one day, than I was before (especially with New Zealand's All Whites soccer team recently qualifying for the 2010 Soccer World Cup).

  5. I think it would be worth the trip - although the country is going to be swarming with visitors. Of course we locals are always concerned that tourists don't understand that those big kitties are wild - and usually hungry. About 10 years ago some tourists in the Johannesburg Liion Park thought it would look good if they posed next to a pride of lions lying in the sun. The lions couldn't believe their luck - lunch without having to work for it. Sad, but true.