There’s nothing unusual about seeing a peacock while in Sri Lanka: They are everywhere on the island. But the one I spot under a bridge, soaked, motionless and with its partially plucked wings flat on the ground, is a gift. I am not a morbid naturalist, but when you’re tracking the elusive leopard, even in Yala, the national park with the highest density of this feline in the world, every lead counts.
After an hour in a jeep stalking around Block 1 of the 979-square-kilometre park in search of the spotted animal, I’m starting to share my companions’ impatience. I look frantically from left to right, stare at tree branches, scan the movements of each tuft of tall grass.
At one point, I turn my attention to our guide, who, although he is armed with binoculars, gazes calmly at the horizon. He is not looking for the leopard, but searching for the signs alerting us to its presence: a bit like gusts of wind signalling a rainstorm. When we pass by the peacock again, he has both lost more feathers and changed places – a sign that the beast has come back for his lunch, but was interrupted again.