The Hunt for the Leopard

Over the weekend we were fortunate enough to travel to Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda, a 6 hour drive north of Kampala. We stayed at the Chobe Lodge, a wonderful hotel located on the banks of the River Nile. It wasn’t uncommon to hear the grunts and calls of hippos while we took a meal on the terrace overlooking the river.

On Saturday, we were joined by a local AK-47 toting ranger named Henry. He was an experienced guide who led us on a photo safari through the wildlife reserve, pointing out many interesting animals we encountered including numerous birds, elephants, warthogs, various species of antelope, and a rather shocking number of giraffes.

Throughout our time in the park, we were hoping to see either lions or leopards, with the leopard being a much rarer sight, especially during the day. During our travel through the park, Henry kept an eye out for what he called “leopard trees.” Leopards tend to favor trees with wide, low branches. Leopards are solitary hunters and after a successful kill, they drag their catch up into the branches of a tree to be eaten at the leopard’s leisure.

It was late morning when Henry spotted a dead antelope dangling from the branches of a tree. He instantly recognized it as a leopard’s kill. We searched the area but the predator was nowhere in sight, so we continued our trip through the park.

We returned a few hours later at the perfect moment. The leopard was climbing down the trunk of the tree Henry had scouted earlier! Initially it hid in some brambles at the base of the tree, eyeing us wearily. A moment later it began walking slowly across the clearing near the tree, towards nearby brush. The leopard continued to keep an eye on us as it strolled towards cover. It was such a beautiful, powerful creature and we were very fortunate to see it in the wild. It was only thanks to Henry’s keen eye and years of experience that we had such an amazing opportunity.

The Animals of Kampala

Kampala, the capital of Uganda, is a bustling, cramped city of approximately 1.5 million people located on the northern shore of Lake Victoria. Our study group has been exploring the city during our first week here: visiting important cultural & historical sites, shopping at craft markets, and sampling the delicious cuisine available in the city’s restaurants. During our adventures, one particular aspect of life here has stuck out to me: the abundance of animal life interwoven into the fabric of Kampala society.

Many economically disadvantaged Kampalans practice urban animal husbandry, raising animals like cows, chickens, and goats in the city’s cramped quarters. Raising domesticated animals provide these farmers with additional income and a stable food supply. Animal husbandry provides an economic boon in an area that may not have many others to offer.

However, wild animals also thrive in Kampala. Numerous bird species make their homes here, taking up residence on rooftops, in trees, and in trash piles around the city. One such species of note is the majestic marabou stork. The marabou is a large bird, with a wing spread of around 7-10 feet. It can be spotted in the fields, drains, and trash piles of the city. Similar to a vulture, the marabou has a bald head and neck, which keeps it lean it when scavenging in refuse or carrion.

One final bird that has earned a special place in the hearts of my classmates is the hadada ibis. A flock of these grey-feathered birds seems to live near our guest house. The Ibis’ distinctive cries can be heard at anytime from dawn until dusk when the birds are in flight or at rest. The species is notable for inhabiting both the wilderness and urban & suburban areas of sub-Saharan Africa.