African Tales – I just spotted a leopard

Spring Hare

Spring Hare

December 1 – Now and then, one or two of the missionary men would go out at night with rifle and flashlight, to see what they could find “for the pot”, usually a small duiker, a common antelope. There were also many spring hares, rabbit-sized rodents that leaped on their two hind legs like a kangaroo. They came out of their burrows at night to feed, and were a pest to the fields of maize or beans, so were shot if they got in the way of a bullet. Their eyes reflected large and red in the light of a flashlight, and usually only one eye was seen, as the hares stood sideways to the intruders. They would flee with great leaps that foiled any pursuing dogs, who lost track in the dark of just where the hare had gone to. Young spring hares make good pets, but I never was able to catch one. I did grab one once as it tried to go into the burrow, but it bit me on the shoulder and escaped!

One night an African friend and I were out with rifle and flashlights to look for spring hares, and as we were walking through the bush, happened to see in the distance one of our young missionary men, also hunting for spring hares with his flashlight and gun. My friend and I were standing side by side as we aimed our flashlights in his direction. He stood and looked in our direction for awhile, unable to see what was behind those lights, and then turned and ran away. We were surprised by that, and next day asked him why he had fled. That was when he was surprised – he had thought that our two flashlights were the eyes of a very large leopard, and didn’t want to risk just wounding it if he shot, so he ran off. We were happy that he had not tried to shoot THAT particular leopard!

African leopard

African leopard

Leopards were fairly common around Solusi Mission, living in the nearby rocky kopjes or hills. Occasionally the mission students would see one on campus during the nighttime hours, but by the time they could call a missionary with a gun, the leopard would have vanished.

I remember once walking through some of those kopjes with our two terriers and my dad’s rifle, and noticed that suddenly the terriers were staying very close to me. Obviously a leopard was lurking close by and the dogs could smell it, but we were not attacked and after leaving the kopje, the dogs went back to their exploring.

One Sabbath afternoon a group of missionaries were out for their afternoon walk, and were scared when unexpectedly our terrier came dashing out of the bush with a leopard in pursuit. Leopards do enjoy eating dogs and this one was intent on eating ours. When the leopard realized it was near all these people, it stopped its chase and stood there looking at them. Dad happened to be the closest to the leopard and said that his legs got so weak and shaky that he almost had to sit down. The leopard eventually stalked off into the bush, and the dog was long gone on his way back home. – DALE

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