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Elusive Leopard

A leopard's head, just visible, through the darkness, Masai Mara, Kenya safari wildlifeSomeone in the back yelled: "There!" I perked up and focused on the circle of light illuminating an area of bush.

High-pitched exclamations of delight reverberated around the jeep, but I couldn't see a thing.

"Where?" I asked hysterically. "THERE!" shouted the entire jeep in unison. This wasn't exactly helpful; I mean, 'there' hardly narrowed it down.

At the same time, I couldn't help feeling a bit stupid; somewhere inside that ray of light - approx. 5ft in diameter - was a leopard. Did I really need help in locating it?

Roughly a minute passed before Sherlock here spotted it, which is a substantial amount of time when you've got several strangers, shouting and stabbing index fingers in the air. I could just about make out two, yellow eyes reflecting back at me and then a head.

Without proper lighting equipment, the photo was more a memento than a work of art, but we were leaving the next day so it was unlikely I'd get another chance. Anyway, we'd now seen the 'big five'! None of the safari experiences, I'd read on the net, had seen all five. So I now realise how lucky we were to have seen all five - especially in less than four days!

Leopard with gazelle kill, Masai Mara, Kenya safari wildlifeThe next morning we set off on our final game drive. Tanya bowed out this time. I didn't blame her; I felt lousy too after three hours sleep and as the leopard's a nocturnal animal, the chances of seeing it in daylight were remote. But I had to go and staggered into reception.

Thankfully, someone noticed my ruby-red eyes before we set off and called the resident nurse. I nearly kissed him, as the soothing eye drops took effect. But, once my sight returned, I was relieved I hadn't! Whatever it was, I don't know, but I have something to thank for dragging my lazy ass out of bed at 5.45 that morning. We left a cloud of dust at the entrance of the lodge; evidently, Kantim was as determined as we were to find the leopard but - the chances?

Leopard with gazelle carcass, Masai Mara, Kenya safari wildlifeAn hour or so passed and our hopes began to falter. We stopped to ask other jeep safaris if they'd seen anything; not a peep. However, Kantim was undeterred, all six senses were bristling and, before long, his sagacity prevailed.

There, in the distance, bobbing up and down through the long grass, were the unmistakable markings of a leopard.

Leopard descending tree with gazelle, Masai Mara, Kenya safari wildlifeShe bounded, effortlessly, up a tree. But there was something dangling from her mouth. Something big. I focused my camera and zoomed in fully. In my wildest dreams, I didn't expect to return home with a photo like this. The bare-faced brutality of life in the savannah was canned in a moment.

The victorious leopard stood proud in a tree, with 3/4 of a gazelle hanging from her mighty jaws.

The ease in which she manoeuvred herself and her prey was mystifying. But she wasn't comfortable and, in the blink of an eye, she leaped to the ground and disappeared into the bush to enjoy her meal in privacy.

I left the Masai Mara with a full heart - and an empty bladder. Read on...

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Have you been to Kenya? Is there a wildlife park or lodge that you would recommend? Write a review here about your 'big five' safari holiday and tell others about your experience - good or bad. Perhaps you know of an excellent budget campsite - or a luxury lodge that should be avoided! Otherwise, feel free to post a question. Let's share our Kenya safari wildlife experiences...

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