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How the Leopard Got His Spots
(A Central African tale)

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Once long ago, in an African jungle, an elephant ruled as king.
Everyone loved him, for he was kind and just. Elepant King had
one absolute, unbreakable rule. No one in his kingdom was
permitted to eat flesh. "Munch upon ripe fruit," said Elephant
King to all his creatures. "Nibble at the sweet grass that blankets
our plains. Chew the succulent leaves, eat the honeycomb, taste
the luscious berries. All this food is good for us. If we eat only this,
we will never make an enemy of anyone."

The animals agreed. "Our Elephant King is wise," they said.
"We want to make no enemies among ourselves and no enemies
of others." The handsome buffalo nodded; the frisky zebra
smiled; the elegant antelope applauded the king. And Kalulu
the Hare was happiest of all, and was pleased to feel safe in
this world.

As time went on, the animals in Elephant King's land
became trusting of creatures everywhere. They never thought
about dangers that might lurk beyond their boundaries. But,
sad to say, other kings ruled other jungles, and other jungles
did not obey such rules. Elephant King's subjects did not
notice prowlers stalking the edge of their land. They could
not imagine anyone would ever harm them.

One day a hungry leopard from a nearby kingdom
slinked into Elephant King's land. With his agile limbs,
he leapt into a tree. There he hid among the branches,
waiting for someone to pass by. Leopard smacked his lips.
"Soon I will have a tasty meal," he said softly.

Before long Kalulu the Hare passed beneath the tree
where Leopard hid. Kalulu was on a mission. Elephant
King had sent him to tell the other animals that soon they
would have a party to celebrate spring. "A party, a party,"
Kalulu sang. "We'll have music and dancing and berries
and leaves. Oh, how I love spring!"

Kalulu hopped gaily along. He did not notice Leopard
in the tree. As he passed that tree, Leopard pounced and
grabbed the little hare between his terrible teeth. "Help!"
cried Kalulu. "Help me, someone! A trespasser has caught
me. Rescue me, please, or Kalulu will die!"

Fortunately Elephant King was nearby. When he heard
Kalulu's cries for help, he lifted his trunk to the sky and
and let out a deafening sound. The trumpeting was so
loud, every branch and leaf and blade of grass trembled.
Every creature in the jungle heard the sound, and all of
them ran toward it.

Startled, Leopard opened his mouth in surprise and
lost his grip on Kalulu. The little hare slipped free and
ran as fast as he could into the bush. Elephant King
arrived at the spot. He seized Leopard in his trunk and
lifted him high in the air. "Why do you try to kill our
friend Kalulu?" cried Elephant King. "Don't you know
the rules of our kingdom? It is against our laws to eat
flesh." And then he tossed Leopard into a nearby pond.

Oh, but Leopard was an excellent swimmer. He
swam quickly to the far side of the pond and crawled
onto shore. Then he turned and looked at Elephant
King, who was by now surrounded by all his creatures.
"Lord Elephant," said Leopard, "you are mistaken.
I would never eat your subjects. I eat only fruit and grass
and honeycomb. Surely you can see I was only playing
with your trusted friend, Kalulu the Hare."

"Is that so?" roared Elephant King. "In that case,
I shall give you the honeycomb I have just collected. I
would like to see you eat it to test your honesty."
Elephant King hurled a piece of honeycomb across the
pond. Leopard caught it with ease and began to chew.
But the moment he did, he knew he was in trouble, for
the honeycomb swarmed with bees. These were Kalulu's
friends, and they began to sting Leopard. They stung
his mouth and neck and chin. "You tried to harm our
friend!" they hummed furiously.

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Leopard howled in pain as the bees stung him here
and there and everywhere. He waved his paws to shoo
them away, but they only stung his paws. He rolled on
the grass, and they stung his belly and his chest. He
rolled again, trying to crush the bees, but they flew
toward his tail and stung that. "You tried to hurt
Kalulu," the bees buzzed. "We will teach you a lesson
you will never forget." They plunged their stingers
into Leopard's hide.

At last, using every ounce of his strength,
Leopard escaped the furious bees. He fled back to his
own country. Kalulu and Elephant King, the bees and
antelope and buffalo, and all other creatures of
Elephant King's land watched as Leopard ran away.
Because they were kind, they hoped he had learned his
lesson. Then they once again began to prepare for their
spring celebration.

Back in his own home, Leopard noticed that in
every place the bees had stung him, a spot had appeared.
The spots grew darker and darker each day, and when his
children were born, they too, had spots on their skin - and
their children's children, too had spots.

Ever since that day, every leopard's skin is spotted,
reminding them of Leopard's adventure in the land
of the Elephant King.

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Story adapted by Amy Friedman,
Illustrated by Jilian Gilliland
published in The Record Newspaper
3/28/99

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