Ferocious wild animals in the Congo are difficult to get to see. Occasionally, someone keeps a monkey as a pet instead of for the pot and you might see a snake now and then, but, apart from that, the jungle keeps its inhabitants very well hidden. Yesterday, though, I came a step closer to brushing with the wild.
The sky began to darken around 6 pm; the trees teamed with bright yellow weaver-birds, chattering and squealing and carrying endless streamers of grass and palm-leaf to build up their nests. Darkness descended swiftly, leaving ragged banana trees and oil-kernel palms silhouetted against the clear royal-blue sky, with vivid twinkling constellations scattered like sequins on a velvet cloth.
People in Basankusu settled down to cook and eat their evening meal, the glow of charcoal burners and the smell of various foods filled the air.
Towards 10 o’clock, Papa Gerard went to wash. He left his little clay-brick house, ducking down a little to step under the palm-thatched roof and walked across his garden. His two goats had already found a corner and were fast asleep. He entered his little area. It’s just a private area screened from view with four flimsy palm-leaf walls and a bucket of water inside. Papa Gerard was tired after a long day in his vegetable garden in the forest, about 4 miles from Basankusu. He’d walked there and back, and now he was ready for bed.
He was just emerging again when he heard a noise. He saw that the ground had been flattened as if something had been dragged across the long grass. He called to his wife but didn’t wait; he followed the trail. He was quite surprised with what was there. A leopard, no less, had dragged one of his goats from the garden and was standing right in front of him, its long yellowish teeth deeply embedded into the side of the goat, and its distinctive orange, white and black pattern clearly visible, despite the darkness.
“Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh!” he cried out, not really thinking about what he was saying or doing, waving his arms at the leopard as his wife caught up with him. The leopard stared into his eyes, then, without a sound, released its jaws from the now-dead goat and scurried into the undergrowth.
It happened to our cook’s neighbour, so we all heard the story the next. Some were excited, others afraid ... but a few decided the story wasn’t true at all.
As for me, I believe it was an uncommon intrusion into Basankusu by a rare and secretive animal ... for whatever reason. Perhaps it was sick, or old. Perhaps it was the leopard that soldiers had captured, 10 years ago, caged and fed, which had returned to a place it knew. Who knows? At least I can now say, that the wild of the equatorial rainforest around me has taken a few steps closer.