It seems as if a little family of leopards have been living at Londolozi completely unseen by humans…until now! Granted, there have been about 3 sightings of these ghost-like leopards in the past few weeks; but the sightings have been short and few and far between. Just the other day we managed to get a good look into the life of Londolozi’s most shy, elusive and secretive leopard.
The mother is undoubtedly the least seen leopard in the reserve… I have never even seen her. There are a handful of rangers and trackers who have had glimpses of this spotted beauty, but when she sees or hears a car she flees in the opposite direction.
She does not have a name and we know nothing about her!
For months we have seen the tell tale tracks of this small female in the vicinity of Ximpalapala Koppie. Enough to tease you into thinking that one had the possibility of seeing her around the next corner. Next came the tracks of some cubs; tracks roughly the size of a civet cat. The most skittish leopard at Londolozi had cubs! I still find it so exhilarating and refreshing to think that even at Londolozi, where we pride ourselves at knowing a huge amount about leopards, that there are still individuals that move around under the radar.
At last Dean Smithyman and Andrea Sithole, one of our ranger/tracker teams, got the first view of the female and her precious litter of three. They were stashed up on the rocky granitic outcrop known as Ximpalapala. The news spread through the ranging team like wildfire…
Every drive, cars would make the trip to the magnificent koppie hoping for a glimpse of a leopard cub. At last, some weeks later, I got lucky. As we headed off to the koppie I remember saying to the guests that this was a high risk high reward moment. Well, we sure got lucky! Not only did we see all three of the leopard cubs, but we got to see them playing around and having a ball of a time. Jumping from tree to tree, running over the rocks and climbing into little caves. At a fair distance they were as relaxed as ever. A wondrous moment considering their mother is the wildest of cats.
And so starts the habituation process of trying to get these cubs used to the cars. Whilst they are young we are able to make an impression which lasts a lifetime. We need to be sensitive so as not to stress them out, but we need to keep seeing them so that they relax and get used to us. Usually, it is the mother who teaches her cubs to be relaxed around the vehicles…maybe this time the cubs can teach mom.
Written, filmed and photographed by Adam Bannister