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  • 21st February 2017 at 2:00pm

The leopard who changed his spots

The Leopard who changed his spots
Far, far away in the forest deep,
Where snakes slither and crawlies creep,
Lived a leap of leopards fierce and strong,
In their leopard lair where only leopards belong.
Other creatures the leopards cared little about,
So they put up a fence to keep them out,
They trusted no one and dined alone,
And let no one else into their leopard zone.
You see leopards are stubborn and set in their ways,
And will be until the end of their days,
Till the forest dies and the last tree rots,
Leopards will never change their spots.
...there was once one curious cat,
Who liked to learn about this, about that,
He got into trouble again and again,
He was the smallest leopard and his name was Ben.
Now Ben was restless and wanted to know,
What else was out there, where he shouldn’t go.
He’d seen other animals having fun,
Over the fence where he too longed to run.
So he went to his mother and asked her one day,
“Please Mum, can I go over the fence and play,
With the other animals so wild and free?
I promise I’ll be home for tea.”
Ben’s mother (who was clipping her claws),
Looked up at Ben and got up on all fours,
“Why Ben, those creatures are not like us,
You can’t mix with them, now don’t make a fuss”
“They’re either too smelly and never clean,
Too sly, too big-headed or just plain mean,
If any of them tries to come your way,
Just run and hide and they’ll soon go away.”
So Ben went back to his leopard tree-house,
And whispered to himself as quiet as a mouse,
“There must be a way if I really tried,
To get over there to the other side.”
So he asked his father later that day,
“Dad can I go over the fence and play,
With the other animals so wild and free?
I promise I’ll be home for tea.”
Ben’s father (who was yawning away),
Looked up at Ben with a face of dismay,
“Why Ben, those creatures are different and strange,
We don’t mix with them - they'll never change”
“They’re either too stupid or too proud,
Too cheeky, too headstrong or just plain loud,
If any of them tries to come your way,
Just snarl and growl and scare them away.”
Ben thought about what his Mum and Dad said,
Until a light bulb went on in his head,
“What if these animals aren’t so strange?
What if it’s ´us´ who need to change?”
Now you´ve all heard how the saying goes,
Leopards can’t change their spots, everyone knows,
But Ben was determined, he had a plan,
“I’ll go ask the King” and off he ran.
He ran straight to see the Great Leopard King,
And said in a voice which was trembling,
(For his tummy was all tied up in knots),
“Leopard King, I wish to change my spots.”
The Leopard King (who was pruning his coat),
Growled at Ben from the depths of his throat,
“Son, have you completely lost the plot?
We mix with our own, not with them that are not."
The Leopard King’s voice was so booming and loud,
That by now they’d attracted a big leopard crowd,
They looked at Ben, up and down, down and up,
And spoke as one to the young leopard pup.
“This nonsense will lead you to trouble and woe,
Curiosity killed the cat don’t you know,
Till the forest dies and the last tree rots,
We leopards will NEVER change our spots."
Oh dear, poor Ben, what was he to do?
He so wanted to change and see things that were new,
He still hoped to get to the other side,
“I’ll go anyway” he silently cried.
That night he snuck out of his cave,
And told himself to be strong and be brave,
It was a dangerous quest, that he knew,
But change his spots was what he would do.
He walked for hours in that forest deep,
He heard snakes slither and crawlies creep,
But on he went, brave and strong,
In that cold dark place where he didn’t belong.
Suddenly, there was a trumpeting sound,
That came from this huge hose wondering around,
“Uh hullo” Ben heard it dozily say,
“Can you help me? I seem to have lost my way?”
“An elephant” cried Ben, who’d learned it in school,
“I’ve finally met one. This is SO cool,”
“That’s right” he replied “I’d almost forgotten,
Please forgive me, my memory’s rotten.”
Ben stared up at him and his big flabby ears,
And said “I know I don’t have many years,
And I don’t know much and I won’t lay bets,
But I thought an elephant never forgets?”
“Ah that’s where you’re wrong my little friend,
We’re not all the same, don’t all follow the trend,
Now what was it I was about to say?
Oh yes, what is it you’re doing our way?”

So Ben told him his plan with a big smile,
And the Elephant listened and pondered a while,
Then said “I don’t claim to know what’s what,
But I’ve never known a leopard change his spots”
But the Elephant, whose name, he said, was José,
Offered to help him, if he may,
“We could go together on this quest,
To change….what?” (he’d forgotten the rest).
So off they trundled, the two of them,
Forgetful José and Curious Ben,
They laughed and chatted and every so often,
Ben repeated their plan, as José had forgotten.
As they turned a corner, they suddenly saw,
A sight that neither had seen before,
For there was a donkey sitting cross-legged,
Doing a crossword with specs on her head.
“Excuse me” said Ben “I don’t mean to intrude,
And I hope you don’t think I’m being rude,
I may be young and new to this game,
But I’ve not heard of a donkey with a brain.”
“Quite alright old chap, you can be forgiven,
It’s a common perception that‘s often misgiven,
Now if you don’t mind me enquiring, gents,
What is your business this side of the fence?”
Ben looked at José, José blinked at Ben,
“What was it we were doing again?”
So Ben explained about their quest,
While the Donkey listened with keen interest.
When he´d done, she gave him one of her looks,
And said “Now I’ve studied a great deal of books,
And thought I knew exactly what’s what,
But I’ve never known a leopard change his spots.”
But the Donkey, whose name, she said, was Celeste,
Volunteered to help them with their quest,
“Perseverance is a quality that I endorse,
I’ll finish the crossword in due course.”
So off the three went, on their way,
Curious Ben, Smart Celeste, and Forgetful José.
They joked and giggled and talked things through,
And Celeste even taught them a thing or two.
Before long they heard a hissing sound,
That came from somewhere along the ground,
Ben jumped, José caught him, they all turned to run,
A poisonous snake would sure spoil their fun.
“Wait” cried the Snake, “don’t go away,
I’d love it if you all would stay,
I’ve just made a casserole, there’s plenty to share,
There’s pudding as well, so pull up a chair.”
The three friends couldn’t hide their surprise,
And Ben said “I know I’m not that wise,
And I know there’s a lot I haven’t seen,
But I thought all snakes were supposed to be mean.”
“I know”, she sighed “about our reputation,
We’ve had it since the dawn of creation,
But never mind dears, enough about me,
Now tell me your plans while we have some tea.”
So Ben repeated the old explanation,
While the Snake listened with fascination,
Then said “I don’t claim to know what’s what,
But I’ve never known a leopard change his spots.”
But the snake, whose name, she said, was Badou,
Wanted to do anything she could do,
“I’ll help you, darling, to follow your dream,
Just as soon as you’ve finished your jelly and cream.”
So with full bellies they set off west,
Forgetful José and Smart Celeste,
Friendly Badou and Curious Ben,
Just like old friends from way back when.
They came to a farmyard and behind a tree,
Was the most beautiful bird they ever did see,
But his colourful feathers were shaking so,
Hands shoved in his pockets, his head was bent low.
“It’s a peacock!” cried Ben “I’ve seen one on the net,
Good day Mr Peacock, I don’t think we’ve met,”
But the bird couldn’t look him in the eye,
The poor thing, it seemed, was incredibly shy.
Ben looked at the others, who all stared back,
And he said “I now know the world’s not white and black,
And I’ve never met one ‘cos I’m never allowed,
But I can't picture a peacock who isn't proud.”
The peacock blushed and tried to mutter,
And under his breath, started to stutter,
(as his legs were beginning to turn to jelly)
“D – d – don’t believe all you see on the telly.”
Then Badou hugged him out of the blue,
And the others joined in and hugged him too,
And that gave him the courage to quietly say,
“W – w – what might you be doing out this way?”
So Ben told him the story (you know how it goes),
And the peacock listened and wrinkled his nose,
“I d – d – don’t claim to know what’s what,
But I’ve never known a leopard change his spots.”
But the shy peacock, whose name was Ahmed,
Had a think to himself, then quietly said,
“I don’t know what I could possibly do,
But you seem nice, so let me help you.”
So Timid Ahmed joined the quest,
With friendly Badou and smart Celeste,
Forgetful José and Curious Ben,
No longer strangers, the five of them.
They met many more creatures along the way,
Like a bat who saw them from miles away,
They came across a fragile ox,
A polite monkey, an honest fox.
They met an owl who asked lots of questions,
And took ALL Celeste, the donkey’s, suggestions,
They met a pig taking a bath,
And a hyena who struggled to find his laugh.
Now what a strange and funny sight,
Twelve different fauna, not one single fight!
Only one thing did these strangers unite,
A common goal, a shared plight.
But what was that plight? We mustn´t forget,
Among all the friends that Ben had met,
Who’d offered him help – and there’d been lots -
Not one had succeeded in changing his spots.
So Ben said “I’m happy I’ve met all of you,
And learned so many things that are new,
But look at my skin and how it’s arranged,
There’s not a single spot that´s changed.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
The other animals considered this,
As a silence fell over the dark forest,
You couldn´t hear a single branch creak...
Till Celeste, the Donkey, began to speak...
“Maybe”, she said, “just maybe you oughtn’t
Think that the spots on your skin are important.”
Then Ahmed the Peacock, slowly announced,
“M..m...maybe it’s what’s on the ´inside´ that counts.”
“Yes” cried Badou the Snake, joining in,
“You’ve opened your heart and now you can begin,
To change from the inside – for that you need praise -
Unlike other leopards, so set in their ways.”
Then José the Elephant gave Ben a nudge,
And said “I’m not one to hold a grudge,
‘Cos I don’t remember how leopards behave,
But I know you’re my friend and I know that you’re brave.”
The others all nodded in agreement,
“Yes, little Ben, what a great achievement,
And you know, we’ve also learned from each other,
Once strangers, we've now grown to love one another.”
With that a joyful tear ran down Ben’s cheek,
They were right, he had changed in just one week,
He’d learned not to judge what you simply don’t know,
The spots didn’t matter, they were only for show.
But that isn’t where our story ends,
For Ben didn’t want to leave his new friends,
So he invited them back to the leopard lair,
He’d teach other leopards to learn to share.
And so Ben began one last trip with his mates,
Towards the Leopard Village gates,
But what they were in for, they hadn’t suspected,
The welcome they got was far worse than expected.
The leopards were growling menacingly,
And the Leopard King snarled threateningly,
“Why have you brought us these beasts so strange?
We don’t trust them and we’ll never change.”
But Ben bravely stood up to his folks,
And then he slowly but firmly spoke,
“Why are you always in a rush
To paint all species with the same brush?”
“Not all donkeys are stupid, not all snakes are mean,
Not all elephants bear grudges, and some pigs do clean,
Not all peacocks are proud, some hyenas are serious,
And not all owls think that they’re our superiors.
“Not all monkeys are cheeky, not all bats are blind,
Not all oxen are brawny, not all foxes are sly,
And you might just find, if you really tried,
A leopard CAN change his spots, from the inside.
“You don’t always have to think the worst,
If you’d only get to know them first,
‘Cos if you did, you might realise,
Having friends that are different, ‘improves’ your lives.”
Well, believe it or not, the leopards kept schtum,
There wasn’t a peep from any of them,
You could almost see Ben’s words sinking in,
Had he finally got the leopards thinking?
A remarkable thing happened that day,
Something had started – not straight away -
But little by little, bit by bit,
The leopards and other beasts began to mix.
We don’t know how this story ends,
But we do know the leopards had started to bend,
They’d opened their hearts so they too could begin,
To let other, different creatures in.
Now it might have been the stark moonlight,
Or the forest shadows in the night,
But just on his neck, what you might call the nape,
Did one of Ben’s spots just change its shape?