Discovering Botswana: A Standoff
By Kush Tandon
December 28, 2004 , around 8:30-9:30 AM , Okavango Delta , Botswana
"Something, or something awful or something wonderful was certain to happen on every day in this part of Africa . Every morning when you woke it was exciting as though you were going to compete in a downhill ski race or drive a bobsled on a fast run. Something, you knew, would happen and usually before eleven o'clock "
- Ernest Hemingway, True at First Light
Three safari jeeps are parked less than 10 steps away from a wounded leopard, a dying baboon, and about 50-100 baboons on the top of the trees, shaking violently, howling, and ready to jump in. About 7:00 AM , my brother along with the ranger KB had seen a leopard stalking for a kill and then got ambushed by the baboons. Deep in the bushes of Okavango Delta, the morning cool, the dew and the calm is slowly disappearing. The birds have telegraphed the hunt to the jungle.
I am in one of the three jeeps that have joined others a few minutes ago at around 8:30 AM.
Deep in the bushes, I see a baboon on the ground barely breathing and desperately trying to hide behind a giant tree. The leopard quietly limps and is now about 10 steps close to the wounded baboon but also uses the bushes as a cover. Every time he moves, the other baboons from above threaten. They are ready to pounce on him. This strong, young leopard, with an arms-length long deep wound on his thigh, is just staring at the baboons. Very briefly, from time to time he looks at the kill and then licks his wound for a second. I never seen any living creature with such a sheer, raw focus - there is no past, no future, only a very tenuous, fragile present.
"I am bleeding. I can barely move too. The moment, I take my eyes off these baboons, they will lynch me. All this for just for a meal. I haven't eaten in two days. This even happened last year. Do you think I enjoy this? I would rather take a nap."
"Why me? I am dying. Why is my time up?" , the baboon lying on the ground.
"If this leopard moves an inch closer to our brother, we are going to tear him apart. He cannot get away. He has his way all the time. It doesn't' matter that some of us will die if we confront again. This has to stop."
A standoff - that will only be over when one of them dies. In this law of the jungle, for all of them, the best hope is the continuation of status quo. Is there a such a thing?
A beautiful leopard, badly mauled, and very focused. He knows he holds the cards. A brave baboon that refuses to surrender his will to live. The band of brothers who are not ready to give up on him yet - as long as he is alive. Nobody is ready to blink. There is about still 2-3 hours before it is eleven o'clock.
Acknowledgments: Picture of "The Leopard" by Lav Tandon (2004).