Tracking Leopards

When you’re on Safari in South Africa, you want and expect to see the big charismatic animals, especially big cats like lions and leopards. After all this is where they live and when you’ve gone to the trouble to travel such a long distance to visit, it would seem as if the least the animals could do is welcome you with an entertaining show. These thoughts are given considerable support by years of captivating National Geographic photos from Africa, but the reality on the ground is; it’s not as easy as it looks to find big cats.

First of all it takes patience, even if you saw the leopards at sunset by sunrise when you go back to find them it may take hours to spot them again if you see them at all. The fact that the guides and trackers do usually find what you’re looking for is proof of their exceptional skill at reading the subtlest signs, whether it’s tracks, broken branches, poop, or the calls of other animals.

Recently at Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa, guide Helen Young took me looking for lions and leopards and talked with me about how the guides and trackers sometimes have to get out of the vehicles and go on foot to find the big cats. This is part of the interview which airs in full this week on my radio show, “National Geographic Weekend.” It also shows some of the cats we found thanks to her tracking skills.

Changing Planet

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Boyd Matson, in his work for National Geographic, has been bitten, scratched, or pooped on, and occasionally kissed by most of the creatures found at your local zoo. What he refers to as his job, others might describe as a career spent attending summer camp for adults. Currently Matson is the host of the weekly radio show, “National Geographic Weekend.” Conducting interviews from the studio and from the field, Matson connects with some of the greatest explorers and adventurers on the planet to transport listeners to the far corners of the world and to the hidden corners of their own backyards. Matson also writes about his experiencs in his monthly column, “Boyd Matson Unbound” for National Geographic Traveler magazine, produces videos for National Geographic.com, and serves as a spokesperson for the National Geographic Society.