By Santiago Legarre

One cold July morning of 2019 I left Basecamp Masai Mara very early with Dennis, a new and eager Maasai guide. As we found out later in the day, providence had it that Dennis and I had met five years ago in his manyatta when I had come for a visit from Eagle View in Mara Naboisho. So we clicked instantly. I told Dennis that I was a man on a mission: I wanted to try the leopard “hunt”.

Going on a safari with just one goal in mind has its own risks, as I observed in another article in the print edition of Swara magazine (Tension on Safari – Swara Oct-Dec 2016). I now would like to elaborate further, again using search of the leopard as a test case, as I did in the previous article.

My driver and I went straight to a stream not far from Basecamp, where supposedly a female leopard had been sometimes spotted and started to drive along the banks, eyes alert to trees, bushes, and the riverbank. The chase brought to my mind similar past experiences. One leopard search along the Mara River, and another one, in Samburu, along the Ewaso Nyiro. Those two experiences and this third one had something in common: No leopard!

As we drove, desolately, with Dennis on my third unsuccessful experience of leopard “hunting”, I thought that perhaps there was a lesson awaiting me behind this feline drought. Does it make sense to go on a safari to satisfy an obsession? Is the best way to find what you want to exclude everything from your sight and focus on your “precious” The lesson, I think, is that the answer to both questions should be “no”; in safari but also in life. The lesson is taught to you with some pain, as all effective lessons are taught. You will not get what you want if you obsess about it; in the case of a safari, you won’t get your leopard, your precious…

So, what is to be done if you have, not the obsession, but the wish of spotting a leopard – a legitimate wish after all? And remember that when I write “leopard” you can read “rhino”, “cheetah”, or whatever might obsess you on safari; or you can think of a professional goal or a romantic dream — whatever you be might obsessed with in life.

Well, let me tell you first how my morning in the Mara came to an end. By the time we were about to give up our search, Dennis and I saw in the distance three land cruisers surrounding a small tree, not far from the stream we had been exploring. We looked at each other and our eyes said: “There is a leopard in that tree!”

So we went and indeed there was a leopard — the female leopard which usually dwells along the said stream but was now half a mile away, with a fresh prey decorating the top of the tree. It had evidently gone out of her usual resting habitat — the stream — for a successful hunting expedition. This leopard was now looking at me with her yellow eyes from a distance of three feet. She hang from a low branch, one metre from the ground. I spent a few minutes contemplating the most beautiful animal I have ever seen, “talking” to her as it were. Soon other vehicles arrived and we had to move on.

I think that when you travel the savannah with a certain preference — having dropped the idea of indulging an obsession — surprises happen more often than otherwise. If you are no longer obsessed with the search of the lost leopard the chances are higher, more often than not, that you will find the animals … or whatever you are not looking for

Santiago Legarre is a visiting professor at Strathmore University, Nairobi