A Night Meeting in Tanzania
AFTER the international convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kenya, we excitedly began our personal safari into Tanzania.
Our first stop was Lake Manyara National Park. We were amazed at the varied wildlife—blue monkeys, impalas, cape buffalo, zebras, and more. Imagine gazing over a pond dotted with hippopotamuses. You watch a giraffe feeding on the other side, a lion in the distant grass, and a herd of wildebeests beyond that.
After arriving at Ngorongoro Crater, we hired a guide and four-wheel-drive vehicle for a day trip into the caldera (crater of a collapsed volcano). The bumpy ride took us some 2,000 feet [600 m] from the rim down to the crater floor. What a sight! Wildlife was spread across the vast plain. Herds of wildebeests moved as if in migration. Zebras, hartebeests, and Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles abounded. At one stop, a maned lion rested in the shade of our vehicle, unconcerned that we were right above him. Later we paused to observe black rhino in the distance and wild elephants close by feeding on the trees. As we drove back toward the rim, we recalled so many impressive animals. Had we missed any?
Well, yes, the African leopard. But the hope of seeing one in the wild is almost a fantasy. Photographer Erwin Bauer noted: “Tourists pursue leopards with rare enthusiasm and diligence, at least in part because the animals are extremely difficult to find, let alone photograph. Most travelers on typical safaris never even glimpse one. During my 15 safaris, I have seen a total of eight leopards, only one within camera range.”—International Wildlife.
By nightfall we had another issue on our minds. Reservations at a lodge had been canceled, so we had to search for accommodations. This took us down a dirt road in pitch darkness. Suddenly the two of us in the front seat were startled. A blur of tan jumped right into the beams of our headlights. We stopped quickly and gasped in surprise!
There right before us was a full-grown leopard! If those in the back seats felt at any disadvantage, that ended in an instant. The leopard dashed to the roadside on the right—and froze. ‘What to do?’ he seemed to be pondering there in the lights and in view of all of us. ‘Attack, or turn my back on an unknown “enemy” and try to flee into the brush?’
Adrian, one of our companions, was the closest, just three or four feet [a meter] from this coiled spring of energy and beauty. “Quick, give me the flash,” he whispered while grabbing for his fully automatic camera. From behind came whispered warnings, “Don’t make a sound.” The camera was quickly readied and a picture taken, but it seemed a failure for the flash was deflected inside the van. As the batteries recycled, Adrian eased his window down. The leopard remained an arm’s length away, the tip of his tail twitching, his eyes glowing.
Just as soon as we took a second shot, he made his choice. The magnificent leopard sprang into the undergrowth and vanished. What excitement inside our van! An experience not to be forgotten, one that guides later told us was extremely rare. When that second photo turned out so well, we had it to reinforce our memories of that thrilling night-meeting in Tanzania.