It has been a little over a month since the passing of the Xidulu Female leopard, who was killed by the new Avoca coalition of male lions who have made their presence felt in the last few weeks. At the time of her passing she left behind her latest litter; a male and female cub that had just turned the 12 month corner and have now been forced into independence. With sightings of this young pair becoming less and less frequent, the chances of their survival was a hotly debated topic amongst the rangers and trackers.
However, this morning was not to be a morning of sorrow but rather a morning of excitement and relief.
The daughter of Sunsetbend female, is named Xidulu which means termite mound in Shangaan.
Three rangers in training, Bruce Arnott, Rob Jeffery and I were heading out in search of the Avoca coalition that had been heard in the early hours of the morning, roaring from the south east of Londolozi. The unmistakable “chitt-chitt-chitt-chitt” of a squirrel’s alarm call caught the keen ear of Rob who immediately decided to head in that direction, as with any alarm call, it is always worth following up on.
As we crossed the dry Maxabene river bed in a densely vegetated area of Tamboti trees and Red Spike thorns, Bruce, who was sitting on the tracker’s seat, gave three quick taps on the bonnet of the Land Rover, a sure sign that he had come across some tracks. Tracks in soft sand can be difficult to age as they hold well and we were without an experienced tracker at the time but we all agreed that they had been made that morning. The small tracks of a female leopard were heading upstream in the river bed. Anticipating her movements, Bruce suggested we loop round to the next crossing. Rob agreed from the driver’s seat and put his foot on the gas.
As with any unknown leopard track, the three of us began to suggest options for which individual we believed the tracks were made by. Most of the more commonly seen female leopards had been seen that morning and were far from where we were, which effectively ruled them out. Excitement grew in us as we realised we may be following the tracks of a new leopard to the area, while Rob suggested that it may be a large civet instead (it wasn’t).
As we descended into the river bed once again and came round the bend where a fallen Jackalberry tree had obscured the view further downstream, we were suddenly greeted by the rosette pattern of a young female leopard, ambling through the soft sand, bouncing in and out of the sunlight that filtered its way through the tree tops from above.
Bruce’s excitement as his eyes met the rosettes of the young leopard skyrocketed, and his hand attempted to repeat the three taps on the vehicle’s bonnet to signal to Rob to stop, but in his excitement and not wanting to take his eyes off the leopard, couldn’t find the bonnet. Rob was scanning the adjacent river bank, probably looking at a woodpecker, when I urgently said, “leopard, there’s a river bed in the leopard!”, jumbling my words up hopelessly. Rob finally saw her and hit the brakes, causing the vehicle to jolt in the soft sand, sending Bruce’s Ray Bans flying into the riverbed below with Bruce himself gripping his seat with white knuckles, his gaze never averting from the leopard. We all stared fixated on this young female in front of us.
There is something special about seeing any leopard, but a young female entering adulthood, seeking out a viable territory that she will be able to hunt in and potentially raise cubs in, really does draw one into a deeper appreciation of how special it is to see these magnificent animals.
Sunset Bend Female was born in August 1992 and provided some unbelievable Leopard viewing at Londolozi until her death in 2010.
Once the three of us had regained our composure and recollected Bruce’s sunglasses, we followed this young female up and out of the river bed and into an area thick with buffalo thorns and long grass, when we saw in the distance a herd of impala browsing in the thicket. The leopard’s ears were alert and she moved without fault through the grass, edging her way towards the impalas that had now moved around a termite mound. We watched her crawl her way up to the top but as with most youths she was too eager, and the impala saw her and set off in all directions in a flurry of alarm calls. The leopard then decided to lie on top of the mound and enjoy the rest of the morning sun.
It was then, as the three of us watched her on top of the termite mound, that realisation dawned. This was no unknown female, it was the missing female cub of the late Xidulu female, found again after many weeks absence.
The Shangaan word for termite mound is Xidulu. The three of us sat there with broad smiles on our faces as we watched this cub who bore the same name sit on a termite mound after just missing an impala. She was hunting and moving in and around Londolozi again and will hopefully be seeking out a territory for herself here. What was once lost had now been found again.