Su spotted it first as it crossed the track about a hundred metres in front of us, heading for the river. I was too busy steering the vehicle to avoid potholes and missed it completely. Once the leopard reached the river bank, it could turn right (downstream) or left (towards us). We gambled that it would come our way, so I manoeuvred the pickup to a place where we had a good view of the river between the bushes.
Sure enough, within five minutes, we saw the leopard languidly moving past us on the riverbank. Its belly was so low it would be wet from the dewy grass. As it walked, its shoulders seemed to rise up higher than its back, in an attempt to reduce its visibility. I was fascinated by its paws, which were not fixed and rigid, but which flipped forward before touching the ground. It reminded me of a human walking with foot drop (take note of how John Thaw used to walk as Inspector Morse, flicking his foot forward to avoid scuffing the point of his shoe).
Su grabbed a few photographs and I reversed back along the track to the next viewpoint. The leopard was obscured by long grass, making photography difficult (cameras tend to focus on grass in the foreground, rather than the leopard in the background). I turned the pickup around and drove back to find a place where safari guides take their guests for morning tea, right on the river bank. I positioned the vehicle so we were facing downstream. We only had to wait a few minutes before the leopard appeared at the edge of the bushes.
After Su had taken more photographs, the leopard padded between us and the riverbank, totally unconcerned about our presence. We lost sight of the leopard as it moved down to the edge of the river. I re-positioned the pickup and took this series of photographs as the leopard re-appeared on the bank. She looked beautiful.
There wasn’t a track to follow the leopard and the main route swung away from the river, so we had a decision to make. Do we double back to the road causeway and look down into thick bush to get another glimpse of the leopard or do we call it a day and go looking for other animals? Su said, “Let’s go and find some wild dogs.” Easy choice. It wasn’t even 7:30am.