By Nikhil Patel, image by Chirag Patel
It was a crisp and misty Sunday morning when we arrived at the main gate of Nairobi National Park at 6:30 am. After getting our safari cards we thought it would a good idea to drive back out and enter via the forest gate. This is never a good idea as either the warden here has not arrived or he has “forgotten” the card too activate his smart card. Disappointed and mildly irritated we turned back around, drove back to the main gate and made straight for Impala View Point where we set upon our ART café croissants and coffee/orange juice with ravenous intentions (Chirag gets cranky if he doesn’t get orange juice and croissants for breakfast). The contrast of the hot coffee and the crisp morning breeze, carrying with it the smell of Africa, we felt charged and set off with a determined focus akin to that of pack of hunting dogs. The Eagerness to see something was almost palpable as after we had been driving for a while one of our group members (Kunal Patel) enthusiastically shrieked….STOP!!!! We all grabbed a pair of binoculars and scanned the brush with a predatory focus…..alas the subject of our focus was just a bush, which swayed from side to side in a mocking wave. However, in my experience I have found that if something seems out of place, it usually is and deserves a closer look. As I panned my binoculars to the right of the bush a stark white flash came into focus. Surprised, I refocused my binoculars, and there came into focus one of the most elusive and graceful cats we have in the park…..I could barely believe what I was looking at and had to re-adjust my position to confirm the sighting. The excitement was contagious, some of us had binoculars glued to our eyes and others trying to get a picture of this phantom.
The soft rumble of a water tanker in the distance distracted us for a brief instant and as I peered in the rear view mirror I saw it closing in on us. I started the car to make room for the tanker to pass. It could not have been more than a 5second window where we had all turned our focus on the tanker, when we looked back it had disappeared just as magically as it had appeared….a true phantom of the savannah. In a mad panic we scanned the area, but to no avail. It wasn’t until the tranquillity of morning was disrupted by the snort of an impala and our photographer Chirag, spotted a herd of impala dash off in the distance. Making a calculated decision we made drove off in the direction of the commotion. With a combination of some keen spotting (Anjli Patel) sheer luck we found it again walking in the tall grass some distance from the road.
Like most of their kind, this individual was extremely shy and wary of us, I suppose this is what has kept it alive thus far, as it kept looking back at us and gradually made its way into thicker taller grass. We did not want to bother the animal and so hung back for a while in the hopes that it may cross the road or come out in the open. Unfortunately this did not happen……..and just suddenly as this enigma had appeared it disappeared, the tall grass closing behind it like a protective cloak.