Stake out at night in Tsavo to track the elusive leopard


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Published: April 28th 2018
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Total Distance: 0 miles / 0 kmMouse: 0,0

Nakuru - Tsavo East


This was our last stretch of the journey for the day.

As the sun was leaning to the west, I was getting a bit concerned. “We have to find a place to stay,” I told Hardev. Given the landscape around, I didn’t have any appetite to drive around in the dark. It’s not like Mara. Here we were driving through the bushes, trees, lava rocks and unpaved dusty roads; driving through the ditches were common and unless you have good joints in your bones, I bet some would come loose after the trip. I didn’t even know if the Rover would survive at the end of the day as it was dancing through the boulders most of the time. There were hardly any tourists around. True, we haven’t seen many big wild lives yet, my sense was telling me this place is more dangerous than Mara. In Mara, visibility was almost perfect and we could see miles around; convoys with tourists running all the time in Mara. In contrast there is only eerie silence here that makes you feel uncanny!

“Yeah, I am looking for one particular lodge,” Hardev answered while controlling the steering, “I checked them out in Booking.com.” Wow! Thank God we will not be killed by wild animals after all! We were driving from roads to ditches, and back to road again looking for signs. And Bingo! The sign said NGulia Safari Lodge was 12 miles ahead. Not too far, I guess. But if anyone has driven in unpaved roads and ditches full with boulders, they would know how long it takes to drive 12 miles. Once again I was glad that it was Hardev who was driving and not me. I felt sorry for him as he was flushed red from the heat and he looked tired. But we made it…finally…and just before the sundown. Yeeeye…

Ngulia appeared to be a paradise and it’s a gated lodge. What a relief. Not sure if Hardev made a prior booking, but we got two rooms alright. And my oh my, this guy had enough energy to haggle over the rates after a hard day of driving. Hardev convinced the Manager to reduce the rates. I was impressed! We found two rooms overlooking the vast wilderness of the Tsavo and the chilled Tusker and Guiness felt just fine. That’s all we needed. It was time to chill out in the evening.

We managed to get one corner table in the big Dining Hall overlooking Tsavo. What a view! NGulia is located high up on the Tsavo. Far below, as one can see miles and miles, the Savannah of Tsavo West extends all the way to the horizon. It goes far beyond the railway track that goes to Mombasa from Nairobi. The scene just reminded me the view from the movie “Out of Africa”. I don’t know where the movie was made, but I could see the same vista right in front of my eyes. In the fading twilight I was totally absorbed soaking the beauty of the Savannah that was melting fast in the looming darkness. Hardev was talking to the waiter. Suddenly I woke up when I heard someone talking of ‘leopard’. This is one elusive animal I haven’t been able to find yet in Kenya.

“We are going to hang a rack of lamb right there,” the waiter was pointing out to an open area where there is a makeshift wooden structure. Beyond that, shrubs and bush extends all the way to the hill not far from us. A big rock covers most of the view behind the wooden structure and there is no way of knowing if something was hiding behind the bush.

“Just to attract the leopard? Or just to attract the tourists” I asked suspiciously.

“It does come,” He pointed to a register where the leopard sighting was logged.

“Bloody Hell,” I was excited. “Hardev, I am going to stake out tonight.” Hardev gave me a smile, “Tomorrow is a rest day for us anyway…so take your time.”

*****

It was full moon and the deck was full with tourists from different countries. Some wanted to have a glimpse of the leopard. The deck was almost at the ground level, a low railing separating the deck from the front yard disappearing in the bush. Anything beyond the railing was off limit to us. We managed a vantage point and occupied. It was around 9:30 pm. The hanging lamb meat was quite visible from where we were. We waited and waited, nothing happened; I was quite sure that an elusive leopard won’t come for a photo-op when fifty people were hovering over the railing. Get real! So, I waited. I checked my watch. It was close to 11:00 pm. Hardev and John have gone back to their room around 10pm. I looked around and most of the people now were gone. I could only see a few die-hard like me still hanging around in the darkness with cameras. I checked the exposure of my zoom…I was now alert. Checked my watch…it was 11:45pm and I saw the shadowy figures of the die-hard folks slowly leaving the deck. At last, I was the only one in the deck and I could hear the staff in the kitchen preparing the dishes for the next morning. Soon, they also left turning off the dining hall light. I found myself the only one waiting in the darkness. Not sure if the animal was waiting behind the rock all this time watching us. I took a bit of cover moving behind a pillar and trained my zoom. It was a full moon night. The vast Tsavo in front of me was drenched in the silent moonlight. Baboons screamed not too far away. An owl close by hooted, Hyenas screamed with a shrill sound. I could clearly see the bush behind the lamb rack from where I was standing. But my left side was totally open and I could only see the silhouetted hills of the vast Tsavo in the moon light on my left. I was totally uncovered on my left and I had to keep an eye on that side as well. Dead silence on the deck; a small lizard passed near my feet, a night bird was calling somewhere – ‘titti…titti.’ I checked my watch. It was close to 1am. Nha! At that point, I gave up hope that the leopard would come. Not only that, I was standing alone in the darkness almost at the ground level. What if the leopard decides to walk around the bush and come from my left silently in the dark, just to taste a live meat instead of the rack of lamb? I had no defense. This is the second time I felt vulnerable after Masaimara where I lost my way in the night. No, it would be pretty stupid to allow for such a risk. I packed my camera gear and left for the room. “Oh, well,” I thought.

First thing it crossed my mind when I woke up - it was my off day. I was tired after non-stop travel and driving around the tracks that sometimes are not really roads. Hardev must be more tired, he was the one who was driving all the time. By the time we all finished our breakfast, most of the tourists were gone for the morning safari and we relaxed on the balcony of our room watching the beauty of the pasture ending to a distant hill. Tsavo is drier than Mara which is evident from the arid savannah. Some waterbucks were hanging around the waterhole with some muddy water in the open land in front of the balcony. We watched a herd of elephants slowly emerged from the distant hills. John spotted them first and they looked like small dots from our balcony. Once they came closer, we found that they were a family of six with two babies. Elephants are generally very family oriented animals, always the leader takes care of the family. Once they came closer, the waterbucks disappeared giving priority to the elephants. It was amazing how the mother elephant was teaching the babies of how to suck the water from the waterhole. The baby elephants were playful; the parents allowed them to play in the mud, but when the horseplay was too much, they controlled the kids. It was almost a couple of hours that we sat down in the comfort of our arm chairs and watched them.

Tonight would be our last night in Tsavo. And I was looking forward to the evening. No, the leopard did not show up last night and the rack of lamb was untouched. So, the hotel staff brought it down and put it inside the fridge. In a way, I was happy that my waiting last night in the dark didn’t go in vain totally and still there is hope. The evening came with clear sky and moonlight. The distant hill and the pasture in front of the balcony was flooded with moonlight. The herd of elephant came back to the waterhole with a greater number. About ten elephants were jostling to get access of the waterhole. But hardly making any sound. It’s amazing to see how such large elephants can wrestle for water without making any sound. We watched them in the moonlight for about an hour and then I made my move….I didn’t want to miss the elusive leopard. A piece of beef was hanging this time and I waited. So did some other guys, but most of them were gone before 10pm. Again, I was waiting alone with my camera ready. I might have dozed off a bit, but suddenly I heard a rustle and I was startled. The sound came from the vast open land on my left. I trained my eyes and there was no mistake….no, it was not the leopard, but elephants. A bunch of elephants, most likely from the waterhole in front of our balcony have come up further to this side. They hung around the bush for a while and some went behind the rock. Whatever the hope I had for viewing the leopard was dashed away. There was no way a leopard would come to the site where a whole bunch of elephants were roaming around. Besides, I didn’t feel safe so close to the wild elephants. “Give it up,”…I told myself. And so I did…packed my camera and went to my room to sleep. It was only 11 pm.

*****

We left Tsavo around 10 am after the breakfast. It was a long drive to Nakuru with a pit stop in Nairobi. I loved Tsavo. True, I didn’t see much of the wildlife in Tsavo as I did in Mara or Lake Nakuru. Was I disappointed? Not really! I didn’t come to Africa with a desire to view the wildlife only. I came here to feel the untamed wilderness of the continent that mesmerized me all the time since my childhood. And I loved it all here in Tsavo. I painted my dream with an image of Africa that I didn’t want to be tarnished, and ‘the vision planted in my brain still remained’.

It was late in the evening when we pulled our Rover through the gate in our home in Nakuru and were cheerfully greeted by the four dogs who are part of our family in Nakuru. We have one more destination to cover – Lake Bogoria which is next.


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29th April 2018

Good stuff
I've really enjoyed travelling with you, and even if you didn't manage to spot a leopard, you certainly got some great shots of other animals.
29th April 2018

Good stuff
Karen, thank you so much for reading and I am glad that you have enjoyed it and liked the photos. My next episode will be the last one on Africa. I would be happy you reading it, please!! Thank you so much!
1st May 2018
Full family with my zoom

Family
How lovely to be able to watch a family of elephants for a couple of hours, and from the comfort of your lodge! We were very lucky to see elephants in national parks in Sri Lanka last year...it was a massive highlight. Spending time with wild African Elephants is on our short list :)
1st May 2018
Full family with my zoom

Family
Watching the family of elephants from the comfort of my lodge was indeed a luxury. The lifestyle of each species amazes me all the time...they are sometimes so diverse but so close. Watching the zebras, hyenas, wildebeest and the lions close by hanging around together is so deceiving fully knowing that one could be the meal of another when the time comes. At least there is no pretense, unlike the human being. I read your blogs on Sri Lanka...still in my bucket list. I should be making that trip given that I travel India every year. Africa, I have fallen in love with...traveling to Tanzania in November. I bet, your shortlist of watching wild elephants will not disappoint you. Please read my last one when I post in a week or two.
3rd May 2018
Always alert!

Hey look at that
Nice!
3rd May 2018
Always alert!

Hey look at that
Aren't they cute! And they look so curiously, as if they are my pet! Feel like giving them a hug around their beautiful neck!
3rd May 2018

The beaten path
Driving ditches and unpaved dusty roads.... sounds perfect for you. You will need a couple of massages when this trip comes to an end. You've had some bouncing around. Sounds like you could have ended up being the rack of lamb. Thanks for taking us on the adventure.
3rd May 2018

The beaten path
Oh my! I knew it's coming, you are going to tell me off. I was tense just after publishing the blog...then I just started relaxing a bit when I didn't hear from you the last few days...I thought you may have skipped it. Now I am stressed! Please don't take the thrill away of my monkey business. It's in my blood MJ, what can I do??? I have the last one coming soon. I promise, that one is is very innocent.
4th May 2018

This is Africa
I am so pleased to read this blog Tab and see you say " I didn't come to Africa with a desire to view the wildlife only. I came here to feel the untamed wilderness of the continent that mesmerized me all the time since my childhood." Great story of waiting for the leopard over two nights but the hero of the story is you experienced the waiting, the sounds, aroma and movements of an African night. On our trips in Africa those times are so precious 'cos others have gone to bed and you are alone...alone with only your thoughts and whatever is out there...alone to enjoy an African night. Priceless.
4th May 2018

This is Africa
Dave, I couldn't have said better than what you wrote. This is exactly what I feel...the whole world with its sound and untold stories crawls onto you in your solitude that no one can buy me at any price. That's one more reason I wanted to be alone at night amid the vastness of untamed wild Africa when the nature is at its best...at night! Thank you for not only appreciating my story, but also capturing the inner spirit of the blog.
4th May 2018
Amazing how the mother trains the baby

Mother & Child
Great shot Tab...special moment indeed.
4th May 2018
Amazing how the mother trains the baby

Mother and child
Thank you Dave. These photos will stay with us for ever and will always be my joy walking down the memory lane. My last episode will be posted soon. Hope you can take some time to read it.

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