BATTLE AT KRUGER IS WORTH WATCHING
May 5, 2013
leopard is the most graceful of Africa's potentially deadly creatures
and is feared throughout the continent. They do not consider humans
to be special, aside from their being easy prey that don't bite or scratch
and can't even run fast.
usually ignore people who remain quietly inside an automobile, even
an open safari vehicle. I owe some remarkably close-up photographs of
leopards from such a vehicle to an outstanding South Africa safari guide
named Frank Watts. Frank refers to the leopard as the "celebrity
of Africa" because of its graceful demeanor and unrivaled elegance.
If the beasts of Africa selected a runway model, the leopard would be
the uncontested winner.
extensive knowledge of the ecology and behavior of animals in the African
bush led to many educational insights. Upon my noting that a troop of
chacma baboons we were watching had fascinating social behavior but
also some unsavory physical habits, he asserted that "baboons will
challenge your love of animals." If we happened to encounter a
lion while we were on foot, he advised us "not to run because it
changes your status." Regarding the African buffalo, one of the
primary killers of lions (and people on foot), Frank said, "a buffalo
looks at you like you owe him money."
Watts has also written a book ("The Other Animals of the Kruger
National Park"). In it he recounts some of his many adventures--with
animals and with people. He notes that during his 17 years at Kruger
"six of my friends and colleagues [were] killed" by leopards,
"the prince of predators." One even jumped into an open safari
vehicle and mauled the guide. I learned of that incident only after
I had taken my own photos of wild leopards from an open safari vehicle.
I think those pictures will have to suffice.
story Frank tells of taking a couple on a weeklong safari in which they
encountered virtually all the large animals found there, except onethe
leopard. The couple told Frank they had come to South Africa many times
but had never seen a wild leopard. Their last few visits to the country
had been for the sole purpose of seeing one. Frank Watts would clearly
be a good choice of guides for achieving that goal. But during the week,
was to leave early the next morning. Late that night Frank heard the
"sawing" of a leopard, "the deep-throated sound [that
is] unmistakable to those who know it." Loading the couple into
a safari vehicle, Frank left the safety of the camp compound, where
visitors are protected from outside predators by tall electric fences,
to pursue the long-awaited sighting. Indeed they found it, watched it,
listened to it growl, and watched it some more. Satisfied after a quest
of many years, the couple were ready to start back. To their dismay,
when Frank turned the key in the ignition, the motor would not start.
After several terrifying minutes sitting in an open vehicle with a big
cat lying a few feet away in the surrounding darkness, Frank made a
decision. With only a small flashlight to light his way, he walked back
to the camp. There, he got another vehicle and returned to where the
couple were waiting. Fortunately, they were unharmed and the adventure
had a happy ending. But as Frank says, "It was the longest 300-meter
journey in history."
was also the safari guide when a National Geographic crew filmed an
extraordinary life-or-death struggle between three of the continent's
most ferocious beasts--African buffalos, lions, and crocodiles. The
remarkable footage simultaneously depicts "nature, red in tooth
and claw" and the power of parental care and social cohesion. You
can see for yourself the "Battle at Kruger" on YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU8DDYz68kM.
May not be suitable for young children or squeamish adults.
Frank's book, go to www.theotheranimals.co.za/frank-watts-book.
And when you go to South Africa, get Frank for your safari guide. Maybe
you'll get to see a leopard.
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