A deeper passion grows for the bush and its wildlife during and after working at Londolozi. The passion is infectious amongst all staff; a seed is planted that grows in the soul of everyone who works in this incredible place. Rangers and trackers get their fix for nature daily, however for camp mangers and other back of house staff this is often not the case. A camp manager only experiences a fraction of their time out in the wilderness. We, as rangers and guests, don’t make it any easier by running into camp and telling our stories. The camp staff are always excited and willing to hear our constant amazing stories that the bush has provided. Some even live vicariously through all the special moments they hear and see through photography. I can sympathize with them to a certain degree; I get the fear of missing a special moment every time I am not out in the bush. That is why myself and tracker Lucky Shabangu, decided to use our morning off to take staff on a early morning game drive.

It was the first week of February and our ambitious plan was to go see if we could find the Ndzanzeni female’s cubs. We had to leave 04:00am and be back by 07:00am at the latest so the camp managers could get ready for their busy day. Fortunately for us we had a good idea of where the den might be; there was a sequence of tracks that had developed from the leopard’s impala kill and a set of boulders a couple hundred meters away which was where we suspected the cubs were being hidden. Lucky was also familiar with these rocks, as the Ndzanzeni female’s mother (the Dudley Riverbank Female) had once used the same rocks as a den.

We gradually approached the boulders just after day break just as the sun was beginning to rise; conditions were almost too perfect. On our arrival at the rocks Lucky spotted the female lying near one of the bigger clusters: my heart nearly launched out my chest with excitement! We sat quietly and waited patiently. It was only ten minutes later when we heard the first contact call. Shortly after the call two tiny shapes emerged slowly and cautiously from the boulders. We managed to spend a wonderful 30 minutes with the new leopard cubs before their mother carried them into the rocks before any other ranger could get there.


This was the first time one of the two cubs was ever seen. (ISO 2000 f/3.2 at 1/160 sec)


The Ndzanzeni female’s two cubs emerge from the boulders. (ISO 1250 f/3.5 at 1/500 sec)



Shortly after she chuffed they had the courage to approach their mother. (ISO 1600 f/2.8 at 1/800 sec)


The first cub approaches (ISO 1600 f/2.8 at 1/800 sec)


The second cautiously approaches while its sibling is groomed (ISO 1250 f/2.8 at 1/800 sec)

We knew how special our moment was but we didn’t expect that we would never see the cubs again. The Ndzanzeni spends time in an area where the soil is hard, which in turn makes it very difficult to track her. Since the morning in question we have been spending long hours trying to find her; the team kept coming across positive signs but never managed to find the cubs again. No one managed to be in the right place at the right time. We always wondered how successful she would be in raising her first litter.  We question if the cubs are still alive considering the Sparta Pride have moved through her territory a number of times over the last month. The female has been seen mating again, and during the course of that sighting there were no signs of suckle marks,  which strongly suggests that the cubs have been lost, and will remain nothing more than a memory.


Instinctively going down into the crouch before the pounce. (ISO 1250 f/2.8 at 1/640 sec)



Blue eyes are strongly indicative of extreme youth. (ISO 1250 f/3.5 at 1/500 sec)



The first time the cubs had ever seen a vehicle, they were understandably a bit apprehensive about our presence.(ISO 1250 f/3.5 at 1/500 sec)


Almost from the time they can walk, the cubs will engage in boisterous play.(ISO 1250 f/3.5 at 1/500 sec)


Always sparing a glance towards the vehicle… (ISO 1250 f/3.5 at 1/640 sec)


The sudden distance betweeen them and their mother as she moved to a more comfortable position made them feel a little more exposed. (ISO 1250 f/2.8 at 1/800 sec)


The female carries to them to the den before moving off. (ISO 1250 f/3.5 at 1/800 sec)

For once, it was the turn of the camp staff to return with enormous smiles, knowing they now had a story of which they could brag, and that belonged to no-one else…

About the Author

Don Heyneke

Photographic Guide

Don defines the quintessential success story in guide development. Having limited experience in the bush or photography when starting at Londolozi, his years here have been a meteoric rise to prominence, and his understanding of the bush and wildlife around him as well ...

View Don's profile


on Sunday Stories: A Cherished Memory

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Sadly,it appears that the Nanga female also lost her litter,she was seen mating with the Anderson male a couple of days ago in the north.

Mary Moy

Awe inspiring, hopefully , the cubs will survive.

Kim Johnson

Fabulous that you and Lucky found those Cubs and shared with the gorgeous camp staff! The photographs taken with you last August are stunning! Thx for all the photo tips and having us in the right place and time!

Jill Larone

It’s always hard hearing of the loss of cubs, but what an incredible experience to get to spend this time with them and to capture such beautiful pictures. Thank you for sharing your very special moment with us.

Wendy Hawkins

Don your pictures speak volumes of the vulnerability of these precious little bundles, but we all know that the bush is harsh, but still not even close to Man’s cruelty to the Wildlife of the World! Thank you for sharing what I am sure will be very special in your collection 🙂

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