There was danger afoot in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. While on safari, a tourist was riding in a vehicle when he was approached by a curious young leopard—which proceeded to bite and play with his shoe. This encounter ended without serious injury or death. But experts warn that the result could have been different.
When the leopard approached the vehicle, the tracker responsible for the safety of the tourist allegedly gave the instruction to remain still, so as not to startle the animal. The leopard jumped partway into the vehicle, scratched the leg of the tourist, and pawed and bit at his shoe.
After viewing the clip, National Geographic explorer and big cat expert Craig Packer, said, “The driver should have started the engine the instant the leopard came up to the car. Allowing the leopard to approach the guest like that was incredibly irresponsible. If the leopard starts to interact with people on a regular basis, someone is going to get hurt and the leopard will have to be destroyed.”
When the vehicle was finally started, the sound of the engine scared the big cat away from the car.
This encounter may illustrate the fine line trackers and safari guides have to toe between guest experience and long-term relationships with the animals. On the one hand, if a guide made a habit of immediately scaring off the animals near their vehicle, then they could displease tourists and eventually lose their source of income. But if a leopard approaches a vehicle without negative feedback, it may continue the behavior in the future and eventually attack someone.
Luke Dollar, another National Geographic explorer and big cat expert, weighed in on the situation: “In this situation, we can’t fully say no harm, no foul, but instead, little harm, little foul. Remembering the adage that cats like to play with their food, and understanding that a young leopard is still learning what it can and cannot easily take down and eat, my main concern is that this young leopard didn’t necessarily take away an immediately negative connotation about initiating direct interaction with humans.”
Dollar went on to say, “I just hope this leopard eventually ends up clearly knowing that people aren’t on its menu.”
This time, the tourist came away with the story of a lifetime, with video evidence. But being that close to a wild leopard is never a good idea.