Hunting with Pula

Author: Shannon Marnell

In 2009 I travelled alone to Africa and to a new country, Botswana. I chose to stay at one camp, after watching a Nat Geo documentary, “The Eye of the Leopard.” Upon arriving, my one wish was to see the famous leopard, Legadema, the star of the documentary. Knowing it can be hard to spot a leopard, it was a constant wish of mine.

One game drive, we were lucky to spot leopard tracks. I was growing excited with anticipation as our vehicle meandered through the bush following a trail of footprints in the sands of the Okavango Delta. As we were tracking my guide tells me that Legadema (lightning in Setswana) just pushed out of her territory, her two young sub-adult female offspring, Maru (Cloud in Setswana) and Pula (Rain in Setswana). At this point, I could care less which leopard I spent time with as long as I could capture some great pics of a leopard. Ahead of us was a huge termite mound as we rounded the mound there was Maru. She lay contently against the mound with not a care in the world. We stayed with her for a bit but she was clearly not budging.

It was that point of our game drive that we would get out of our vehicle to stretch our legs and have tea and snacks and just relax as we attempt to plan our next course of action. After going on many game drives in my day, you can always set out to do something, but your plans often fail. They fail due to alarm calls, a change in tracks or even change in weather. You learn to listen to all the species tattle tale on each other, giving another away with alarm calls, heard throughout the savannah. We packed up and head in the direction of the baboon alarm calls. Where there are baboons, there are often leopards.

As we approach the general area, we spot a leopard in the high grass, blending so effectively. Could it be Legadema? After tracking and following this leopard for some time as we were at a better vantage point, we soon realize we spotted Maru’s sister, Pula. Maru and Pula are young at this point, new to hunt on their own so they had a lot to learn for their new venture in their lives on their own. Unlike Maru content and not budging, it was clear Pula was on a mission. She was hungry and she would stop at nothing to find herself a meal. Pula would look high, and she would look low, she was not going to discriminate.

We watched her stalk a guinea fowl through the tall blonde reeds of the bush and we almost lost her. Pula had no such luck. Just as I was starting to feel so sad for her, she out of nowhere lunges into a tree, leaves go flying and she lands to the ground with a tree squirrel in her mouth. A split second is all it took. She saunters over to a sausage tree and lays in the shade at its base as she toys with this squirrel-like any cat would do. She then lay down and proceeded to feast on her appetizer. After she cleaned herself, rolled around and then just sat there and posed for us. I did not know it at the time, but I would have many more encounters with Pula over her time. She quickly became one of my favorite leopards. I never did see Legadema on this trip, but hunting with Pula was a privilege I will always remember.

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