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All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

- JRR Tolkien

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Travel

Aug 02, 2019

There’s a Leopard in the Lounge!

How another evening on the shores of Kafue River, in Zambia’s Kafue National Park soon became a night to remember.

WRITTEN BY

Sarah Kingdom

Nestled under a stand of riverine trees, overlooking an immense dambo on the eastern banks of the Kafue River, in Zambia’s Kafue National Park, is Musekese Camp.

Sitting by the open fire one night with drinks in hand, our pre-dinner chatter was interrupted by a gruff cough, much like one might expect from a butler politely announcing that dinner was served. This was no butler however, this was a leopard making her presence known as she passed by in the shadows.

The next night, heading back to camp, after a game drive, for a much-anticipated dinner, we were stopped in our tracks by a leopard. He was stalking his own dinner. Using the sandy road as a convenient walkway, pausing from time to time to sniff the air. Hearing encouraging rustles in the long grass beside the track, he lay down to contemplate his next move. Not wanting to disturb him by overtaking, we were left sitting in the vehicle, our tummies rumbling for supper. A little later, apparently having decided the sounds he’d heard were not promising enough, he set off again, sauntering down the road. Rounding the corner we saw he had found another, even more, auspicious looking, place to lie in wait. We switched off the engine and sat silently in the dark. Puku settling down for the night got wind of the leopard’s presence and started to shift about uneasily, making tentative alarm calls. Suddenly, we were startled to see another leopard, this time a much larger male, come trotting down the track towards us. Leopard number one, being the younger and smaller of the two, and quite possibly intruding on the big male’s territory, looked nervous. The young interloper turned tail and headed, at pace, towards us. Pausing briefly as he passed our vehicle. He was close enough that we could have touched him. The new arrival also continued towards us. Stopping as he reached the vehicle, he gave us all a good look over, before continuing off into the dark.

A few nights after we left Musekese, another leopard started to make his presence more known in camp. This was a young male, born close by the camp to a resident female (the ‘butler’s voice’ of our fireside experience). This youngster, approximately 8-10 months old, was initially part of a litter of two, but his sibling has not been seen for some time. Still fairly dependant on his mother, she seems pretty comfortable leaving him in the camp whilst she’s out hunting most nights. It seems like this is clearly a case of ‘while the cat’s away…’ as there have been nightly visits to camp in the shape of a young feline intruder. Initially, the camp staff just saw footprints, heard alarm calls and the occasional growl. Mother and son then killed and ate a puku in the lodge parking area. Then there were reports of the youngster walking in front of staff tents after dark, through the dambo in front of camp during lunch hour and even climbing a tree one morning and lying down to watch the guests over breakfast. Becoming more adventurous and playful one night the young leopard had a ‘midnight munch’ on shoes left inadvertently outside the lodge managers’ tent.

This playfulness reached new heights when left to his own devices at night, he decided to turn the lodge lounge area into his personal playroom. Mother and son make regular night-time forays through the camp, but when Richard, the waiter, found the cub on the couch alone one evening, after the guests had gone to bed, it was decided to put up a camera trap to see what he was getting up to. The next morning the bar and lounge were a bit of a shambles and after investigating the camera footage, it was soon revealed why. Giving a whole new meaning to ‘prowler’, the night time partier had not quite danced on the bar but had certainly left his footprints along its wooden countertop. He’d rifled through reading material and redistributed ornaments, before finally trying each of the sofas for comfort, rearranging the blankets, chewing on the cushions and generally making himself quite at home. For Phil Jeffery and Tyrone McKeith, who built Musekese, their ethos is “it must not only feel wild but be wild”… well, I don’t think it gets much wilder than this!

PS. Chatting to Phil, he says they will “maintain our vigilance and not become complacent, it is a completely wild animal after all… the novelty will soon wear off for the leopard and indeed he will move on to find his own territory or follow his mother into other parts of their territory.” But for now the Musekese ‘midnight meddler’ is certainly making himself at home.

www.jmsafaris-zambia.com

 

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Travel

Sep 25, 2019

Hiking in the Tetons: When a Teenager Discovered the Power of Nature

On a family camping trip in Wyoming, a future environmental journalist writer witnessed nature’s raw power.

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WRITTEN BY

Millie Kerr

As soon as we began ascending Wyoming’s Hoback Peak, black clouds appeared on the horizon. My family had only been camping for several days, but I’d come to expect the sky’s mid-afternoon mutation. The problem was, our guide had us climbing the region’s highest ridge, not traversing lower ground as we had on prior days when thunderstorms were a near-certainty. Every step up the mountain amplified our distance from clusters of trees, whose towering crowns and fallen trunks offered protection from direct and ground lightning.

“Should we turn back?” I asked my father. My lone ally on this treacherous vacation (our first and last llama trek) shrugged, “Not unless Loren pipes up.”

From the moment I met him, our guide Loren reminded me of a juvenile golden retriever refusing to be trained. His boundless energy betrayed naïveté, or was it something else?

We continued hiking upward. The higher we climbed, the closer we came to those ominous clouds, now enveloping the sky.

I was only fourteen—and a wispy sliver of a girl—but I never let age nor size get in my way. “Loren,” I shouted, “The storm’s coming. Shouldn’t we go back now?”

He paused for a moment, sniffing the charged air, and responded, “We’ll be fine. It’s not heading our way. Onward and upward!”

Within minutes rain began to fall, morphing into hail as lightning struck the apex of a nearby mountain, an alarming reminder that we trekked vulnerable terrain. Entirely exposed and the tallest objects in sight, we’d become mobile lightning rods.

To find cover, we needed to make our way to higher or lower ground, and I ascended more slowly than the others. In a pinch, they might be able to scramble to safe cover, but what if I couldn’t keep up?

The storm quickly escalated, and I knew that I had to descend even if it meant traveling alone.

“Loren,” I yelled into the wind, “Can we please turn around now?” to which he answered, “We have to get to higher ground to find cover. Follow me, everyone, and hurry!”

My mother and brother rushed after him. I tugged at my father’s shirt, begging him to retreat with me, and he acquiesced.

Without discussing the consequences, he relayed our decision to the rest of the group, urging everyone to join us, but Loren insisted that anyone able to continue to follow him to elevated turf, to more expansive tree cover than what we’d find below.

I’d already lowered myself to the ground, preparing to inch downhill like a crab. My dad rebuked then joined me. Two slithering bodies covered in mud, we ignored the painstaking switchbacks plodded the previous hour, reaching a nest of trees within minutes. We removed our packs and perched atop hefty logs; thunder, lightning, and behemoth hailstones raging all around us.

Then we held hands and prayed and waited for the storm to pass.

When it did, my father and I emerged to altered terrain. Tromping across icy slush, we spent a seeming eternity looking for camp. The llamas, our packhorses for the week, had scattered, and our tents were blown over, their contents dispersed like bits of city garbage.

We located the jittery animals and tied them to nearby trees before setting to work on our tents. These tasks afforded a momentary distraction from nagging questions: Were the others safe? Had we made the right decision? When would they come back, and what if they didn’t?

Suddenly, movement on the horizon. My Dad and I jogged up the banks of a mild ridge, peering into a vast post-storm haze. “Mom! Jeff!” I shrieked.

They shouted back, but with their calls came the distinct sound of laughter.

“It was no big deal,” Loren bragged minutes later as he wrenched off his jacket and mud-soaked boots, “We found cover in no time. You should’ve stuck with us.”

At the time, he seemed to be posturing—saving face—but over the years, my perception shifted: I no longer see doubt on Loren’s face. The man wasn’t merely a risk-taker—he was arrogant. He stared directly into the eye of a storm as though he were its equal match, as though his survival that day made him stronger than nature itself.

You can follow Millie on Twitter and Instagram.

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