I have been in Lopé National Park, Gabon, for the last few weeks, helping Dr. Sam Moore as he leads up Oxford’s field campaign to sample the functional diversity of these forests in collaboration with Gabon’s national parks agency and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The forests are unique in still having large elephant populations, a species that reshapes the landscape through direct disturbance and also preferential seed dispersal and herbivory. My mind was on elephants and megafauna every day in the field – but sometimes other things sneak up on you.
Sam has a motion-triggered game camera that he likes to set up near our research sites – just to see what passes by. In previous weeks it picked up some small ungulates, a chimpanzee, some elephants. One day he set it up in the rain as we were heading out of the forest with our branch collections on an elephant trail at around 1230PM. At 2PM the same day, something came down the same path from the direction we took, and noticed the camera…
This is a male leopard (Panthera pardus) – not something we expected ever to see in this forest, live or on camera. But it certainly saw us, or at least smelled us. It is hard not to feel tracked after a moment like this. Was it watching us the whole time, or did it come later on? It is hard to know. But it is good to have a healthy respect for the forest – sometimes it watches you.
(footage courtesy of Sam, and edited/uploaded from England on his behalf due to limited internet bandwidth in the field!)