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Hide and seek

On safari in Tsavo West National Park, a ‘land of lava, springs and man-eaters’, Gabriella Mulligan searches for the elusive leopard

Years of travelling in Africa, and you still haven’t seen a leopard,” exclaimed the friendly head sticking out of the open top of his van. “No, the leopard is my safari archnemesis,” I whispered back, not wanting to disturb the nearby pride of lionesses. Dusk was falling in the Kenyan bush and the ladies were perking up in anticipation of their night-time wanderings. “Well, you’ve come to the right place. Cross over to Tsavo West, and I’d bet my vehicle that you’ll see at least five,” my guide muttered beneath his binoculars. Big words. But dare we believe them? There was only one way to find out.

OPPOSITE: A leopard gazes out over the charred-black earth near the Shetani lava flow, a dramatic contrast to the vibrant greens of the bush elsewhere in Tsavo West

The other side of Kenya’s largest park is home to leopard, cheetah, lion, wild dog, buffalo, rhino, elephant, giraffe, crocodile, mongoose, porcupine, hyrax, dik-dik, lesser kudu and zebra, as well as more than 600 species of bird. But the next morning, we set off in search of leopard. Tsavo, spanning 22,000sq km across the country’s southeast, is one of the biggest reserves in the world. Split in two by the Nairobi-Mombasa railway, it boasts two very different territories.

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About Travel Africa

Come rain or shine - how the seasons affect your safari experience • On foot in Mana Pools • 5 Amazing islands in Mozambique • Guide to Tanzania's Udzungwa Mountains • South Africa's emotive Battlefields • Why Tsavo West? • Tree-climbing lions in Uganda • Cultural journey through Côte d'Ivoire... and much more!