Does that not sound like a splendid subject for a fable? But we are not going to hear it. Instead, we are going to hear the story of How the Leopard Got His Spots. This is a literary technique known as bait and switch.
In his youth, the Leopard was known for his wild and reckless behavior. It was a frequent subject of hand-wringing and head-shaking among the other animals of the jungle.
“He has no thought for the future,” said the wise old Elephant. “He never considers the consequences of his actions.”
“He drives like a maniac,” added the Okapi. “I mean, he would if we had cars.”
“Something ought to be done to teach him some responsibility,” said the Musk Ox, who had come south for the jungle climate on the advice of his doctor.
“I shall teach him responsibility,” the Lion declared. All eyes turned toward the wise and magnanimous king of the beasts. “I shall teach him by giving him a kind of responsibility which will engage his pride, his amour-propre as it were.” The animals were always particularly impressed when the Lion threw a little French into casual conversation, although in fact the only French words the Lion knew were “amour” and “propre.” “He will be given a responsibility essential to the well-being of all, and the consequences of failure will be shame and embarrassment.”
“A wise decision,” the animals all agreed, and there was scattered polite applause.
So the Lion summoned the Leopard into the royal presence.
“What’s cookin’, pops?” the Leopard asked with a jocularity that had all the other animals cringing.
“I have a very important mission for you,” the Lion told him with imperturbable good cheer.
“Solid!” replied the Leopard, who was always “hep” to the latest “jive.”
“You must carry this tray on your back to the Chimpanzee, who lives on the other side of the valley,” the Lion explained. “On it are six open bottles of ink, which the Chimpanzee will use to write his quarterly report. As I am sure you are aware, without quarterly reports the entire machinery of government grinds to a halt. Yours is therefore a mission of the utmost importance, and it requires extreme steadiness and careful concentration. One thoughtless step, and your splendid yellow coat will be ruined. Can you do it?”
“I won’t let you down, pops,” the Leopard assured him.
So the Elephant used her trunk to lower the tray carefully onto the Leopard’s back, and the Leopard set out for the other side of the valley, treading the well-worn jungle track as carefully as he could.
He had been walking only a few minutes when he met the Hyena, who was rolling on the ground laughing uncontrollably.
“Oh—oh—oh!” gasped the Hyena. “I just heard the funniest joke! I must tell it to you!”
“Oh, man, I love a good joke!—But no; no, I have an important responsibility now, and I must not fail. If I laughed too hard, the ink would surely spill all over me, and everyone would know that I had failed. You must excuse me; I will hear your joke when I am done.”
So the Leopard walked carefully onward, even though he really wanted to hear the Hyena’s joke.
It was not long before he met the Cheetah along the way.
“I just learned this solid new dance,” she told him, bouncing up and down with excitement. “Won’t you please dance it with me?”
“Oh, man, I love to dance with you!—But no; no, I have an important responsibility now, and I must not fail. If I danced with you, the ink would spill all over me, and everyone would know I had failed. You must excuse me; I will dance with you when I am done.”
So the Leopard walked carefully onward, even though he really wanted to dance with the Cheetah, who had a bit of a reputation as a wild girl.
It was not long before he met the Grey Parrot, who never had anything good to say.
“Aw, your mother sells inferior foreign-made footwear in a discount department store,” the Grey Parrot said with a beaky sneer.
“Oh, man, I’d love to chase that bird!” the Leopard said to himself. “But no; no, I have an important responsibility now, and I must not fail. If I chased him, the ink would spill all over me, and everyone would know I had failed. There will be time to chase the Parrot when I am done.”
At last the Leopard came to the Chimpanzee, who relieved him of the tray of ink, thanked him profusely, and wrote him a receipt to take back to the Lion. The Lion congratulated the Leopard on a job well done, and hoped he understood now how good it felt to take personal responsibility for something important.
“I sure do,” said the Leopard. “I’m going out to celebrate right now!”
So the Leopard ran around the corner to the tattoo parlor. “I feel like celebrating,” he said. “I want something really wild. Something like what the Cheetah’s got.” And the tattooist gave him what he wanted. And that is the story of how the Leopard got his spots, which made quite a change in his appearance. The next time he passed by, the Giraffe was so surprised that he stretched his neck way out to get a better look, and it stuck that way. So it seems we did hear the story of how the Giraffe got his neck after all.