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Tracking Leopards in South Africa

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It was pitch dark outside as I stumbled to the kitchen tent in search of coffee. One of the research assistants had stirred up the fire and a kettle was heating as we stood around, cradling cold, empty cups in our hands--waiting expectantly.

One of the guides grabbed the tracking antenna and headed down to the truck. "Think spots, think spots", we whispered as we headed out the gap in the stockade fence.

Rudy stood in the back of the truck, rotating slowing in a circle, headphones on, listening for the signal that would indicate one of the traps has been sprung--and captured a leopard. Nothing.

Combining travel with volunteering--in this case at the Ingwe Leopard Conservation Camp in the Thaba Tholo Wilderness Reserve is the definition of experiential travel. Travelers willing to commit to two weeks of work can stay at the Conservation camp and participate in ongoing research.

Capturing and collaring two leopards was part of the current research on leopard territory ranges being conducted at the camp.

Disappointed there was no signal, it was still necessary to do a trap run--both to inspect and disable them for the daytime. At first light, we covered the impala carcass at the first trap, attracting the attention of a curious giraffe. Heading up a steep hill to the next trap, a large kudu surveyed us from his rocky perch.

Each trap, though empty, had a tale to tell as we examined the nearby tracks.

No leopard today, but the night is full of possibilities.

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