Looking for the leopard

Our little group of photo enthusiasts travelled in two jeeps, we were in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda, and the problem was that the other jeep had spotted a leopard.

They showed us some terrific photos and we got very jealous. In fact, it seemed a mystery that we had missed it, because our jeep was just ahead of theirs. Maybe the leopard’s head didn’t stick out above the the very tall grass the moment we passed, or maybe it simply wasn’t there yet. Or maybe the five of us all looked in the wrong direction.

Anyway, a frantic search began the following day, with our driver and guide Vincent doing his utmost to find spots where the elusive animal might be seen and all of us staring so hard, and being so hopeful, that the slightest mound was mistaken for a leopard’s head.

We saw antelopes – Uganda kob, topi – in big numbers, innumerable birds including the superb crested crane (Uganda’s national bird), hundreds of elephants in a long procession, one hyena and some shy warthogs.

But no luck with the leopard.

The next possibility to see one could possibly be a couple of days later, in the small Lake Mburo National Park, but we were told that chances were really slim.

Joy and hope spread in the group when we arrived at our lodge in Lake Mburo, Mihingo Lodge, (do stay there if you get a chance, you won’t regret it!) and were informed that  a leopard actually had been spotted on the previous day.

We set out with new energy and were happy to meet buffaloes with their faithful companions the oxpeckers.

We were equally happy to meet a hippo that seemed to have the time of its life, rolling around in the mud and inviting us to take a look at the inside of its imposing mouth.

We were thrilled to stumble upon a small group of alert mongoose as the sun began to sink.

The sun set and we resigned to the fact that we wouldn’t see a leopard on this trip, and started feeling how hungry we were – dinner was in just a few minutes.

We approached the lodge, and … there it was, crossing the road just in front of the jeep!! It lay down just a few metres away, and the excitement saw no end.

Now you expect photo evidence of this encounter in the dark. I have to disappoint you. I took a photo of course, but it came out one of the worst I ever took. It was dark, the exposure time very long even at a high ISO and on top of that I was excited, so you can imagine the shaky result.

You simply have to believe me that it was a marvellous encounter.

 

The long walk or Don’t give up!

We walked and we walked and we walked in the dense vegetation in the tropical forest, uphill, downhill, very rarely on paths, stumbling on roots, getting stuck on thorny bushes and avoiding safari ants. We were a group of photo enthusiasts trying to find chimpanzees in the Kibale Forest National Park, Uganda.

We heard them, suddenly close to us, chatting, screaming and banging on tree trunks. Chimpanzees are very noisy animals! With the help of our skilled guide we tried to get close, moving silently and calmly. No luck – they just flew between the tree tops, away from us.

We walked on. And on. And on.

There they were again, just close by! Maybe this time we can get close to them and actually observe them, not only hear them!

But no. Same story again. And again. And again. The guide never failed to lead us in their direction, but the chimps always won the race.

We walked on in the beautiful forest.

Eventually, we spotted a male high up in a tree. Great excitement and all cameras out!

iPhone photo by Annelie Utter

But … was he laughing at us standing there clicking away and getting neck problems while trying our very best to get a good shot?

Silly humans, I’m sure he thought, while resigning to being photographed.

After seven hours of walking we gave up on the group we had tried to follow and set out to look for another group of these clever animals. Now we were lucky and rather soon found some that we could observe – and they could observe us.

The one here below was a rather philosophical guy, I thought, as I watched him sitting down to contemplate the interest in him and his pals.

Chimpanzees love fruit and this specimen feasted on some with red seeds that stuck to his lips.

When we were back at the jeep that should bring us back to the lovely Ndali Lodge where we were staying, 10 hours had passed since we set out in the morning. 10 hours of walking in the tropical forest. Was it worth it? Yes!!! Would I do it again? Without any hesitation!!! The experience of being close to chimpanzees in their natural habitat has no price and is worth all efforts.

It had been a wonderful day. I admit that I was a little tired though – just a tiny bit.