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Lesley and Peter recently travelled to Sri Lanka with Audley. Hear all about their exciting leopard encounter in Yala National Park.

Leopard in Yala National Park
Leopard in Yala National Park

The hotel restaurant hadn’t yet opened for breakfast when we climbed yawning into our safari jeep, and headed off toward Yala National Park in Sri Lanka for our second safari into this park. Our first trip there the day before had ended in a torrential tropical downpour, accompanied by thunder and lightning. Our guide had pointed out that leopards — like all cats — don’t like the rain so our chances of seeing one was not likely. I was glad it wasn’t a self-drive trip; I certainly wouldn’t have liked to have driven back in the cascading rain. What we didn’t know was that the previous evening’s rain was actually going to work in our favour.

Our chauffeur/guide Shantha, who was escorting us around Sri Lanka, sat in the front cab with the driver. Peter and I sat in the back of our eight-seater vehicle with the park guide, who had to accompany us on all our trips there. Our driver was not one to follow the others, so we soon went off on our own route. We’d only been in the Park for about ten minutes when, from the bushes at the side of the road, appeared a male leopard; I hadn’t even had time to check the camera was set up properly.

'We’d only been in the Park for about ten minutes when, from the bushes at the side of the road, appeared a male leopard'

Our driver immediately turned the jeep for a better view. I just snapped away, not knowing how long the cat would stay there. But this chap was in no hurry to disappear. Last night’s rain had washed away where he’d marked his territory, so he was going to re-mark it no matter who was watching. He sniffed, he sprayed, he rolled around in the grass and lay in the middle of the road in front of the jeep, but he stayed with us for a magical 15 to 20 minutes. As he walked up along the road our driver carefully followed him. As there was only the two of us in the vehicle (thanks to private vehicles) we were able to move around easily to see what he was up to. Looking at my images of the leopard now it seems that while he was there, he had kept his eye on us all the whole time.

Then another jeep came up along the track behind us, our driver and guide tried to signal to them to slow down. But the leopard decided that the show was over and disappeared in to the shrubs — two steps into the undergrowth and it was invisible. But boy were we popular with the other drivers and guides when we stopped later that morning on the beach to eat our breakfasts. They crowded round to see my photos and the video Peter had taken of him.

Our third and last trip into Yala was later that afternoon, we saw lots of other animals and birds but no leopards — or so we thought. As we had left the park, in the failing light one walked boldly across the road in front of us. So our trip to Yala had rewarded us with two sightings of that elusive leopard. What a fantastic day.

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