As guides, we are often asked by our guests what our favorite or most memorable sightings have been. For many of us, and particularly myself given that I have only recently joined the Londolozi family, it is a very difficult question to answer, and one that quite honestly, rarely has an answer. In my opinion, every sighting possesses its own unique qualities, and this in turn creates different feelings and evokes different emotions, both for us as guides, but also for all of our guests.
There are however certain sightings that come to mind when this question is asked. I recently guided a long-time repeat photographer, whose main focus was to photograph the Leopards of Londolozi.
Our first few days were characterised by some wonderful sightings of various individual leopards, and we enjoyed photographing them in different scenes and settings. It was the next few days that followed, however, which produced a sighting that my guests and I will never forget.
About a month prior, one of our rangers, Garrett Fitzpatrick and tracker Life Sibuyi, after following up on a set of female leopard tracks, managed to find the den site of the Nanga female, who had not been seen for quite some time. This sparked huge excitement amongst the ranger and tracker team. The nature of female leopards with cubs however, is to continually change den sites to ensure the safety of her cubs, and this meant that the search for the new den site continued.
The Nanga female was born to the Nyelethi 4:4 female in 2009 as part of a litter of three.
It wasn’t until three weeks later that the Nanga female was seen again, leading us to her new den site, amongst a set of well concealed boulders with tiny crevices in which she hid her cubs. My guests and I, wanting to view and photograph her and her cubs, set out early one afternoon and headed straight to this spot. Much to our disappointment, the female had once again moved den sites, and after a good few hours of working through the area, tracker Euce Madonsela and I realised we weren’t going to find them in the time available, and so we returned to the lodge.
We went back out the next morning with renewed energy, and were filled with hope when Euce spotted a fresh drag mark across the road, which led us straight to an impala kill. There was however no leopard nearby, and we thought to ourselves that it had to have been the Nanga female that made the kill; perhaps she had returned to her den site to fetch the cubs. We considered numerous different scenarios, but eventually resolved to return to the carcass in the afternoon to see if there had been any developments.
Feeling determined to find the female and her cubs, we set out early that afternoon, heading straight back to the kill. Our plan paid off, and we found the Nanga female laying down next to the impala carcass. We decided to wait with her, hoping that she would lead us back to her new den site.
Four hours of us patiently waiting had passed, and there was still no indication that she was going to return to her cubs. Just as the light was fading, she began to move. We followed her with great anticipation, only to watch her climb a tall Jackalberry tree and settle down for the evening. We once again returned to the lodge without having found the den site and her cubs.
The glimmer of hope from the afternoon drive meant that we set out the following morning absolutely determined to find the den site and the Nanga female’s cubs. We once again returned to the area where she had stashed her kill. After tracking for about an hour from where she had moved it, we found her again, feeding on the remains of her now 2 day-old impala carcass. We accepted the fact that we would have to once again wait patiently to see if she would move in the direction of her den site. After an hour, she began to move, and this time with obvious intent. The energy on the vehicle could be most accurately described as a mixture of nervous tension and excitement. We continued to follow her as she scent marked, and weaved through a thicket on her way towards the Manyelethi river. She moved down into the river at a point where we were not able to access with the vehicle, so we were forced to drive around to the nearest crossing and head downstream hoping to bump into her again.
What we found was something I will never forget.
She approached a set of rocks, and began to call for her cubs. Minutes (or what felt like hours) later, two tiny little balls of fur emerged from the safety of their cave, and greeted their mother with excitement. They were clearly very aware that they were now outside of their hiding place and exposed to potential danger, as they kept looking around cautiously between bouts of suckling and playing with their mother’s tail.
We spent the next little while photographing, and filming their boisterous, and often clumsy playfulness, before they returned into the depths of their hiding place as the morning began to heat up.
I have had the privilege of having some absolutely incredible sightings in my time at Londolozi, and I am sure there are many more to come, but this was a moment in time that I will re-live forever!