cheating and failing
For big game lovers, Loisaba holds out the tantalizing promise of near certain success. Because of its sizable small and medium antelope population (impalas, dik diks), the hillsides of Loisaba’s gorges are inhabited by leopards. One can also descend to the plains below the escarpment, where the larger ruminants roam, drawing lions. Best of all, this private game sanctuary has figured out how to stack the deck in its guests’ favor to maximize their chances of seeing the big cats.
As the lodge manager explained to us, Loisaba takes a “civilized” approach to big game viewing. Why put yourself through the ordeal of a bumpy and dusty safari ride in search of elusive leopards when you can relax with a cocktail in hand while waiting for the leopards to come to you? To that end, the Loisaba lodge constructed a leopard blind – a narrow, unobtrusive structure nestled into the rocks at the bottom of a ravine. One side of the blind is open, with a bar tabletop running the length of the half-wall. It offers an unobstructed view of the ravine and of a tree on which the guards hang a piece of fresh meat. As the sun descends, you settle into the tall barstools and sip on your gin & tonic while waiting for the leopard to come devour the meat.
There was considerable debate as to whether baiting a leopard with a giant hunk of meat was cheating. At the end of the day, however, seeing a leopard up close is rare and we snuck into the blind with great anticipation. Imagine our disappointment then when no leopard appeared. As dusk descended, we calibrated the flashes on our cameras, but all for naught. All we had to show for our efforts at the end of the night was dozens of oddly-lit pictures of the tree with an untouched hunk of meat dangling from one of its branches.
Having failed at leopard baiting we next tried our hand at lion tracking. There are at least eight distinct groups of lions that visit Loisaba. The sanctuary has put collars on members of each of the prides to track their movements and to make it easier to find them during game drives. Alas, we proved no more adept at lion tracking than at leopard baiting. After getting a weak signal, our guide left the smooth dirt road and plunged our vehicle deep into the bush. We spent half an hour jouncing wildly over massive boulders with no lions in sight.
The antenna kept picking up a “full” signal but the device never once emitted a beep, which would have indicated that we were close to lions. Eventually we abandoned our fruitless search, conceding the undeniable fact that the “full” signal was a result of the antenna picking up interference from our car. On the upside, our off-roading brought us in sight of a large herd of elephants and we spent a good amount of time oohing and aahing over the tiny, bumbling baby elephants before heading back to give the leopard blind one more try.
This time, the bait worked. Sadly, we arrived too late to take full advantage of our success. Our guide killed the engine and attempted to coast downhill towards the blind so as not to disturb the leopard that had climbed into the tree and was wildly tearing at the hanging meat. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to noiselessly navigate a safari vehicle down a winding, rocky mountain road and as we rounded the last bend, the leopard got spooked and took off for the hills. We stuck around until nightfall, but he never returned. Alas, even though we ultimately succeeded in seeing the big cat, we failed to get the up-close pictures we had sought.