Preview: Stalked by a Leopard

Lydia Lion opened her chartreuse-colored eyes and looked around. Her brothers had been tussling over a bone, and from their wrestling they were, all three, tired-out little lions. The mother lion, Lorna, sometimes napped with the cubs in the afternoon, but not on this day.

Lydia stretched and stretched, curling her tail in a loop over her back. Then she scrambled up the crack beside the big rock and out into the hot afternoon sunshine. Often, the mother lion sunbathed on the rock, in front of the den, but this one day she wasn’t there. Grown-up lions were lying about in the shade after a good meal. They took turns napping and watching the leftovers.

As Lydia looked from the den’s entrance, the jungle seemed to be waving across the way. Heat rose from the rounded bushes and tall grass clumps around the den, distorting the view. Dark shady spots showed under ball-shaped bushes and slumping tufts of grass, cool and inviting: off she went.

Black-masked bee-eaters flew around, flushing grasshoppers, locusts, and other insects from under the high grass and catching them in mid-air. Lydia’s favorite game was pouncing on grasshoppers, when she was quick enough. And she could watch the African swallows’ long streaming tails as they turned aerial somersaults.

MEANWHILE, a leopard was sitting on a tree limb not so far away. Leopards usually prowl at night, but this leopard was getting too old for a successful hunt. His teeth were worn, broken or missing. The old leopard had to be active during twilight hours to extend the time for finding something to eat.

These days, the old leopard was reduced to horning in on other predators’ meals or catching small prey when he could. Because small animals and birds were active during the day in open areas and around the river, the old leopard kept near the jungle’s edge. He usually smelled something and began following his nose or another clue. When he saw a chance, he approached quietly. By stalking his intended prey, getting closer and closer without being seen, heard or smelled, he sometimes succeeded.

There are a whole lot of grasshoppers in the Congo. They move away as you approach, flying, buzzing and hopping. So, as Lydia saw one and pounced, others hopped, flew or scrambled away, leading Lydia more or less directly away from the den and toward the jungle. A cloud of noisy grasshoppers rose ahead of her. It was a small disturbance, but interesting to the leopard. Lydia was improving her quickness and aim, and nearly caught several grasshoppers.

The leopard had watched the approaching birds and insects, and now he was creeping silently in the tall grass moving toward the disturbance. Lydia might soon be discovered by the hungry leopard!

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