In June Daria flew from Moscow to Nairobi, in few hours she prepared things to do list, one that topped was Masai Mara. In the vast stretches of Masai plains where the horizon merges into hills of Tanzania, a stream cut through greened by trees and on one of these trees lazed a leopard whom the guide pointed to Daria. It looked right into them, a leopard in a Lion dominated plains crowned the guide, but Daria wasn’t as excited.
The large fig tree table at Forsyth Lodge hosted the evening with whisky, Daria reminisced the Masai leopard but continued that, ‘I wish the leopard was on ground’. ‘Most leopard sightings in Satpura are on ground, resting either on termite mounds or on rocks’ I praised. As Daria was building her hopes of finding a leopard on ground, a herd of Chital within lodge perimeter threw warning calls.
Evenings later we drove to buffer of Satpura Reserve, Adhaar is an ambassador of this area and our local guide; an instinctive spotter. Our Gypsy ambled up a stream that had pockets of water and sandy bank for spoors of animals, Often a leopard imprints a paw during this hour when the shades of the forest turns darker, when the first nightjars make their sally, when the crickets mic-check, when Vega shines through the leaves and our pupils dilate to see the forest floor. Adhaar infected his excitement of spotting a leopard.
‘On the ground Daria!’ I whispered.
She fires a few pictures at it, and the leopard walks parallel to the road, the road is a gully, the ground eventually rises either side. After a shy protest, the leopard stops behind a bush and crouches. Sensing the leopard’s unperturbed posture, we gave it a couple of minutes keeping the engine on. After preaching everyone to avoid sudden movements we snailed for a better position. A patch of grass carpeted in front of the leopard rolling till the edge of the road and there was enough light for few more pictures but I insisted Daria to take binoculars while I could flirt with her camera. Another five minutes passed and the ghost with the rose walks into darkening bushes and merged. Adhaar and I planned to counter the leopard on an adjacent track, we checked with Daria and gang if they’d be alright while squeezing through the monsoon blanketed forest road. They gave an apprehensive ‘okay’ but when the Gypsy heaved towards a Giant wood-Spider web, Pramod urged to turn around and stick to main track. But we knew another road parallel minus the rankling bushes and tidied spider webs, as we hit the end of this road where it junctions, the same spot-lit leopard walked heads up toward our jeep. It dared ahead of the Gypsy and Daria had her fill of leopard until now.
We later discussed on possible reasons for often seeing a leopard on ground which might be the infrequent movement of Tigers and Wild dogs in our safari area who may compete with leopards, also the terrain being rocky and steep in the highlands and plains undulate which suits for a big cat that is versatile. And I was glad that Daria could find her Leopard on ground.