“Perhaps you will see the leopard, but it is very rare.” My guide was trying to be realistic but also attempting to develop that sense of anticipation for the safari. Wilpattu National Park extends across 520 sq km of territory and is one of the best places to spot a leopard in Sri Lanka. But what would I see.
The jeeps sped off down a long road and dirt track towards the centre of the park. For ages, it seemed there was nothing. But there was something there. Hidden behind branches and in the undergrowth were deer quietly munching on grass. Birdsong could be heard too. But where were the other animals?
We continued to a clearing where a huge monitor lizard strolled nonchalantly across a path and round a tree, seemingly oblivious to the click of cameras as I stared at its scaly tail. A few metres away and a gaggle of peacocks strutted their stuff, teasing us with their feathers. Would the open their plumes or not? They did and I smiled as they waved their colourful displays, almost teasingly. But did they know something I didn’t?
We drove on slowly down the track when suddenly the driver stopped.
He reversed slightly and pointed at a nearby bush. I couldn’t see a thing. How had he seen that whilst driving? We stared, whispering, and wondering whether it would come out and spring at the jeep. As I stared at the bush I saw what seemed to be a pale yellow shape. Was that my leopard?
I stared for ages just wanting to see all of the leopard but it remained hidden, stealthily watching from a distance.
But we can’t see all of it. I pointed my camera and hoped for the best. How wonderfully the animals camouflage themselves so they can barely be seen by outsiders. As we stared in fascination the leopard stood up and his legs stalking through the trees followed by a swishing tail became more defined. We waited a while to see if there were any more or whether this one would return. The peacocks teased us once more with their feathers, but of the leopard there was nothing. For me just that glimpse was a highlight.
Later we walked by a lake and a rather innocuous looking log turned out to be a crocodile. I had never been that close to one before. Whilst monkeys swung in the trees, chattering away I looked in vain for more leopard but that was it. One sighting but an immense pleasure to see this beautiful creature in the wild.
Can you spot the leopard? Look out for my next story about elephants.