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Tracking in Tanzania
Ruth Bridger who won our writing competition at the end of last year tells us all about her Tanzanian adventure...
The long, straight road stretched before us where it merged into the skyline. A cloud of dust on the horizon signalled another vehicle heading towards us. We left the windows open for as long as possible, then rapidly wound them up as the dust cloud was about to draw level. It was another Land Rover on its way back from the Serengeti. When the air around us was clear again, the windows went down and the warm air blew into the cab giving some relief from the midday heat.
“I’ve been driving tourists on safari for years, and I can tell you that it’s only one in every ten trips that I’m lucky enough to find one.”
“Then I hope you haven’t seen one on your last nine safaris” I replied, but he didn’t answer as he concentrated on guiding the vehicle over the rough, corrugated dirt road.
We had already seen enough lions, that viewing yet another pride was about as exciting as a herd of zebra. Most of the antelope family had been caught on camera as we leaned out of the top of the Land Rover, and elephant, hippo, rhino hyena, jackal and warthog had also been captured on digital memory chips in addition to a host of exotic birds including the ostrich. We turned off the road and down a track towards a bushy area. There, underneath the shelter of a thorn bush lay a family of cheetah, the first ones we had seen. Presumably the father was out hunting as only the mother and five cubs were curled up in the shade. They hardly moved as we drove as close as we dared to get a better view.
It was late afternoon as we drove alongside a river, which was very low in places, towards the safari lodge. Suddenly, a herd of elephants appeared on the far bank and came down to the water to drink. We counted at least thirty, from older males to young calves just a few months old. They were an interesting family and we tried to guess the relationships between them, but we couldn’t stay for long as the sun was going down.
As we climbed away from the side of the river towards the main track, our guide suddenly cried out and the Land Rover swung around and crashed through small shrubs and thorn trees. He slowed down and eased forward until we were underneath the overhanging branches of a tall tree. He pulled me up through the open roof and pointed triumphantly to where a long tail swung down from a branch and curved up at the end. I followed the tail up to the branch and along the sleek body until I reached the two dark, almond-shaped eyes which seemed to hold my gaze. His head went down and rested on his paws, but his eyes didn’t move. We had found the most elusive member of the cat family, the leopard.
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