Was that a leopard?

After arriving in Fort Portal and finding a lovely campsite we pitched our little tent and marvelled at the beauty of the Rewenzori mountains. As the sun dipped and night crept in, we thought it would be nice to have a couple of sundowner’s. The bottle of spiced rum and the coke were located from the car boot and a plastic sack thrown on the floor of the entrance to the tent. This was an important and vital ingredient for drinking alcohol as it prevents you from sitting on an ants nest and receiving painful surprises.

As the light faded away, the chorus of frogs and cicadas increased until it was pitch black and the forest was a cacophony of croaks and high pitched squeaks. We chatted and sipped away sat next to each other. That was until everything went completely silent in an instant. We fell silent too in confusion and listened. It was almost as if somebody had hit the mute button on the remote control. The contrast of noise to silence was astounding. So much so, we felt the silence was probably louder than the forest chorus. It was genuinely weird. As we sat there holding our breath and straining our ears (it had only been about 10 seconds since the silence had hit) we both heard a low growl ripple up towards us from the forest in front.

We were elevated about 20 feet above the flat of the forest. I instantly wished it was miles! I immediately felt my stomach turn and my sphincter tighten at least 3 notches. We had both frozen completely still. Amy whispered to me “Did you hear that?”. I swallowed the mouthful of rum and coke still in my mouth and whispered back “I did, where’s the torch?”. The forest was still deathly silent. Amy then helpfully responded with “In the tent, what do you think it is? A leopard?”. When somebody confirms your own thoughts in a moment of panic and stress most people behave rationally. The weird thing is that I actually wanted to cover her mouth with my hand and shout “Of course it ‘s not a leopard!! Why would it be a leopard? We are in Africa where leopards abound and in a mountainous region which is the preferred habitat of a leopard. And there are plenty of national parks nearby. So don’t be so bloody stupid! Of course it is not a leopard!”. Instead I squeaked “It might be, get the torch quick!!”.

Amy unzipped the tent and dived in head first scrabbling around frantically. I sat with my rum and coke in my right hand still frozen in my original position and stared straight ahead into the pitch black. I could actually feel my muscles tensing out of the “fight or flight” response that is built into us all. I knew my response was definitely “flight”. My rational mind was telling me “a leopard would not attack as there are 2 of you, plus they are quite shy animals” while my irrational mind was screaming “It’s a bloody leopard, it is going to eat you, get away from here now!!!”. Amy spun around clutching our enormous and extremely bright torch. As she switched it on, it was as if the whole world had been hit by a lazerbeam from God. The torch moved backwards and forwards as we searched for any sight of movement or shape. After what seemed like hours (But was probably about a minute and a half), the entire forest burst into full orchestra level again. It was once again instant and as if the soundtrack had just been unmuted.

We both sat there staring and searching in silence. Amy piped up with “So do you get leopards here?”. I thought about lying but instead thought truth was the best option. I phrased it as best as I could. “Yes, there is probably a really good population around here. They have good prey in the mountains and national parks and can pop into town for light take away items like cats and dogs. Not to mention the easy option of domestic goats.” Amy was silent for a second and replied “Well that’s it then! No sleep for me tonight!”. I could have punched myself for being so stupid and telling the truth. We never heard the sound again or saw anything that resembled a leopard, however that didn’t stop me being posted as lookout at 3.30am when Amy needed a wee!

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