“Lesedi?” Ételle asked.
“It means light in Setswana,” Dr. Gail said.
“That’s what they speak in Botswana?” Om asked.
“It’s one of the languages spoken there.”
“So you found this leopard, Dr. Gail?” Aditya asked.
“It wasn’t that easy. The other two people you see in the picture are my colleagues Dr. Mothusi and his wife, Dr. Precious. The three of us had just received our PhDs but we needed to prove that we could do field work to get grants and this particular grant would have given us the boost we were looking for. It was a bit much for freshly graduated students.”
“But you had to try?” Ételle asked. “Wasn’t it hard? Finding a leopard doesn’t seem that easy.”
“Like finding a boar,” Om said.
“Yeah, a boar is impossible, maybe we should get Lisedi to come help us,” Aditya said.
“Unfortunately,” Dr. Gail said. “Lisedi, was last seen about five years ago. She had lived up to 18 years old which is really good for a leopard living in the wild. But you guys are right tracking a leopard is not the easiest thing to do. Sometimes you need to get help.” She put up a slide of a short barefoot man wearing only a pair of cargo shorts. “This man is the legendary Mr. Mathew, our tracker, the person who helped us find Lisedi and win that grant.”
“Is he a bushman?” Aditya asked.
“That’s right Aditya. You see I met my Botswana colleagues when I attended a conference in New York. Like me they had just graduated and were looking to make a name for themselves in wildlife conservation. We were three young African scientists in a very competitive field. They came to Mauritius and helped me do some research on preserving nesting areas for birds. But it wasn’t enough. We needed to do more. Dr. Mothusi read about the grant. It was usually for very experienced field researchers. But some younger people had won it in the past. We decided to give it a shot. We selected Chobe National Park. It is full of animals. We decided we would do a study on leopards in the park and how they share this territory with other animals, especially predators.”
“Why leopards, Dr. Gail?” Ételle asked.
“Because, they are extremely elusive animals and there weren’t a lot of studies available. So we head up to Chobe National Park and set up camp. We spent three weeks looking for a leopard. We didn’t see anything and this place was supposedly full of them! We found plenty of spoors, droppings, even leftover kills in trees.”
“What are spoors?”
“Tracks, their paw marks. We would find them every morning, but we didn’t know how fresh they were and after three weeks of looking for a leopard day and night we were feeling . Finally, one of the game rangers saw that we were hopelessly lost and suggested we use the services of Mr. Mathew. We went to see him. He was a former poacher who now worked for a tour company leading safaris. Luckily he was free and offered to help us. But he did something more important than that.”
“What did he do?” Om asked.
“He taught us how to track. He found Lisedi in about four hours that we set out from camp! He showed us how to read her spoors and the signs that would us to her.”
“What did she do when you found her?” Ételle asked.
“She just ignored us! Mr. Mathew explained to us that she had just eaten and most probably thought we were tourists. He said we’re going to have to win her trust. But she gave us the best news; she told us she was pregnant. Let me tell you kids it was one of the most amazing times of my life. The three of us watched her around the clock for almost two years. We watched as she raised her cubs; Tipti and Baby.”
“You called her Tipti, ‘little one’ in Creole! That’s awesome!” Ételle said.
“I got my colleagues and the park authorities to agree on the name, they didn’t mind. So we managed to study how Lisedi raised her cubs, protected them and finally how each went their own way. That was sad. But we had accumulated enough information and bio-data that allowed us to put together an impressive study if I may say so myself.”
“It took you guys two years to get the grant?”
“Oh no Ételle! Once we found her we able to put together an introduction to the study we wanted to conduct. We managed to send pictures and even a small film reel. Finding Lisedi through Mr. Mathew allowed us to put together a solid pitch which allowed us to win the grant.”
“Wow!” The three of them said together.
“However, I had another reason for bringing you guys here.” Dr. Gail looked at the kids. “You kids need a tracker.”
“Milo,” all three said at the same time.
“Indeed,” Dr. Gail said. “Milo.”