Once, a very long time ago, all the animals were thin. This was because there was not enough food to eat.
But Otter, his wife and all his children were quite fat. They didn’t seem to be hungry at all. You see, Otter was very, very clever. He had found a shallow lake full of fish, but he told no one. Every morning he went to the lake and brought back just enough food for himself and his family.
Leopard was thin and hungry. He was always looking for something to eat. One day, he saw Otter and noticed how fat he was.
“Mmmm,” said Leopard. “What is going on here? I think I should watch this otter.”
So, the next morning he hid himself in the long grass near Otter’s house and waited. At last Otter came along. He walked quite slowly, carrying a basket which seemed to be very heavy. Leopard sprang out of the long grass.
“WHAT have you got in that basket?” Leopard shouted.
“Oh! Ummm … firewood! I’m carrying firewood back to my home,” said Otter. But he had forgotten that Leopard had a very good nose that could smell EVERYTHING.
“Oh no,” growled Leopard, “I can smell fish and I am going to eat it all.”
Otter knew he was too slow to get away from Leopard, who was a very fast runner. But Otter was VERY clever.
“Okay,” said Otter. “Let’s sit down under this shady tree.” They sat down and Otter suggested, “Why don’t you make a fire while I go to my house to fetch some salt, pepper and oil, then we can have a delicious meal together.”
“Good idea,” said Leopard jumping up to search for dry wood for the fire.
So, Otter went off to his house. Soon he was back with the salt, pepper and oil. He also brought a long piece of strong rope. He put everything on the ground, and began frying the fish.
“Leopard,” he said, “while we are waiting for the fish to cook, let’s play a game. We’ll use this rope. We’ll tie each other to the tree. You may tie me up first. When I say, ‘LOOSE’, you must tighten the rope. When I say, ‘TIGHT’, you must loosen the rope.”
Now, that was the wrong way round. Everyone knows that tight means tight and loose means loose. But Leopard was hungry. He thought the game would make the time pass more quickly until the fish was cooked.
“Good idea,” Leopard said.
Otter stood with his back to the tree. “Okay, ready, LOOSE!”
Leopard jumped up and tied Otter to the tree. After a while Otter shouted, “TIGHT!” and Leopard unfastened the rope to set Otter free.
“Now, Leopard, it is your turn,” said Otter.
Leopard sat with his back against the tree and called out, “LOOSE!”
Otter quickly tied Leopard tightly to the tree.
After a little while, Leopard shouted, “OKAY, TIGHT!” But instead of playing the game the way he had explained it, Otter tightened the rope around Leopard. He tied it so tightly that Leopard could not get free.
“Come on!” shouted Leopard. “I’m tired of this game now.”
Otter just laughed. He sat down at the fireside and ate his meal. When he had finished, he packed up the rest of the fish for his family, and went home.
Leopard roared and roared and roared. “HEEELLLPPP!!!” For the rest of the day and the whole of that night, Leopard called out for someone to help him. No one came.
Now, luckily for Leopard that is not the end of this story. In the morning, he roared again, “HELP! HEEELLLPPP!!!”
This time, Mouse came by and saw Leopard.
“What are you doing there, tied up to that tree?” asked Mouse.
“I was playing a game of loose and tight with Otter and he just left me here to starve,” said Leopard. “Please, please set me free. You have such sharp teeth and you could nibble through the rope quickly.”
Mouse felt sorry for Leopard, but he knew that if he let Leopard go, he would be eaten. “I’m not sure,” Mouse said.
“Please,” begged Leopard. “I’ve been here for a day and a night. I’m so thirsty and hungry.”
Poor Mouse. He was kind-hearted, but very silly. He started to nibble the rope. He nibbled through a few strands and waited. Nothing happened. Leopard did not move. Mouse then nibbled through all the strands, one after the other, until at last Leopard was free.
“WRAAAAAA!” roared Leopard. Instead of being thankful, he tried to grab Mouse. “WRAAAA!” he roared again as he struck out with his big paw.
Poor Mouse squeaked and dived for a nearby hole. He was quick, but not quite quick enough. Leopard’s sharp claws hit his back just before he escaped into the hole.
Ever since then, otters and leopards do not talk to each other. Mice do not talk to leopards either. And mice will also not talk to otters because they blame the otters for starting the trouble.
And ever since that day, the poor, poor mouse has stripes on its fur. And everyone knows that those are the scratches once made by the leopard’s claws.