I learnt an important lesson this week, that not all spotted cats in trees are leopards.
I discovered this whilst out having a lovely stroll with the ‘cheetah boys’, my number one favourite pastime. We were moseying along, them sniffing and scent-marking at various spots along the road, me watching and collecting data on their behaviour.
After about 30 minutes the boys changed course and headed off the road into the block. I knew there were a couple of other groups heading to the sighting hoping to also have the magical experience of walking with wild cheetah, so I stopped to make a mark in the road so they would be able to follow our trio into the bushes. Whilst doing this and letting everyone know our movements over the radio I took my eyes off the cheetah for a minute and when I looked up again I couldn’t see them anywhere. Rats! This is very annoying! First of all because I was very much enjoying being with the boys and secondly because I didn’t want to lose them before the other groups arrived.
So, determined to relocate them I headed into the block along the course I had last seen them on. I went about 100m looking and listening for any sign of these cats who are adept at moving stealthily and silently through the bush. Then I hear rustling a few metres ahead of me but not coming from ground level, up in the canopy of a large marula tree. I glance up and just make out the black-spotted pelt amongst the leaves. “Blimey”, I think to myself, is it really possible that I have bumped into a leopard whilst walking with the cheetah?! But whilst this thought is working its way through my brain my eyes focus more clearly on the animal that is teetering and looking highly ungraceful in the fork of the tree and I realise with some surprise that it is not the spotty rosettes of a leopard but the cheetah boys trying their hand at tree climbing.
So there it is, the day I learnt my lesson that not all spotted cats in trees are leopards. Though I’m pretty sure it’s not a sighting I’ll see regularly having seen how uncomfortable they looked in the tree and how ungainly the dismount was.