A Bed Time Story by Marie Schmidt

A deep purring sound makes me stop abruptly and immediately brings me back to the here and now. Did I really hear this? It sounded like a house cat purring, only much deeper and louder. I try to shine some light into the bushes in front of me...

It’s an evening like any other. After a satisfying dinner, I quickly check my e-mails in the office before heading to bed. A short detour to the bathroom and then to my tent. My mobile phone flashlight leads me the way or, at least, ensures that I can see where I’m putting my feet. With my thoughts already on tomorrow, I pass the tents of other staff members until I finally reach mine.

A deep purring sound makes me stop abruptly and immediately brings me back to the here and now. Did I really hear this? With my sparse light source, I try to shine into the bushes in front of me. Instinctively, I get the feeling to better go back to camp.

Leopard Tsavo, Karongwe – Photograph © Christoff Els

Full of adrenaline I ask one of my colleagues to walk with me back to my tent. We grab a proper spotlight and while we are walking we discuss who potentially could have made this sound. A genet? A civet? Maybe something even bigger?

We move slowly and carefully because we know, that the purring was a potential warning but we are curious and willing to investigate. Panning the spotlight from right to left, I’m holding my breath only to realize that there’s nothing far and wide. My tension drops and inevitably turns into tiredness. We shrug our shoulders, say good night, and disappear into our tents. I slip under my duvet and turn off the fairy lights that are hanging across my tent ceiling.

And there it is again! A deep purr right next to my tent. I literally freeze in my bed, waiting for something to happen. My bed is on the left side of my tent which, like the entrance, has a large mesh window to allow air to enter and see-through. I can clearly hear something strolling around my tent. Living more or less in the bush, I rely a lot more on my sense of hearing than just seeing things but then I finally see what is happening. Only an arm’s length away from me, a leopard passes my mesh window. I stop breathing for a short while because I’m afraid that any movement would tell the leopard that I’m inside the tent.

Leopard, Pridelands – Photograph © Marie Schmidt

Although we all know that we are living in an unfenced camp amongst wild animals, having such a close encounter with a leopard is extremely rare. Suddenly, I realise how close I must have been to the leopard earlier when I walked to my tent and it gave me a warning. The thought of it makes me shudder but somehow it also puts a grin on my face.

For a couple of minutes, I don’t hear any movement outside and I start to relax again. The leopard must have moved away and I can finally sleep. But the leopard has other plans. Again, I hear the purring sound, this time on the other side of my tent. Seconds later, the leopard appears directly in front of my tent entrance and stops. He sniffs the ground and lays down. I can’t believe this is happening. What do you do when a leopard starts sleeping in front of your tent? First of all, continue breathing. Secondly, you feel small and vulnerable. Very small. While I’m still thinking about what to do now, the leopard disappears again into the night.

Leopard and Civet Tracks, Karongwe – Photograph © Christoff Els

With a smile on my face, I finally go to sleep. My first act tomorrow morning will be to check out the leopard tracks that must be all around my tent.

Later in the night, I wake up from the rain setting in. It washes away every possible track or sign of the night. I’m more than disappointed because I was excited about the tracks and to share what had happened during the night. Then I shake my head at these thoughts. I was allowed to experience this moment with the leopard alone. It doesn’t need any evidence. It was an evening unlike any other.

The following night a herd of elephants will happily feed in between our tents for hours…a story for another day.

How strong is a leopard | EcoTraining Encounters

Anyone that has ever had the opportunity to witness the sheer power and prowess of big cats in action can stand testament to a leopard’s ability to catch and kill prey far larger than themselves. In this instance, a male leopard weighing around 85kg caught and killed a blue wildebeest bull which could have weighed as much as 290kg.

About the Author: 

Marie Schmidt is a past EcoTraining student, Back-up at Makuleke, and currently an EcoTraining Media Intern.