Leopard cubs are fragile little animals. We hesitate to publicise the birth of a new litter as, sadly, the chances of them surviving to even a month old are slim. Such a high level of parental care is required in the first weeks of these cat’s lives that more often than not they are simply never seen, and a brief period of visible suckle marks on the female leopard or a few obvious months of pregnancy is the closest we get to seeing the cubs before they are lost.
The Tutlwa female lost a litter of three earlier this year. The Vomba female’s current cub is the first in a number of years to reach an age at which we can view it, as she has lost multiple litters to floods and unknown other dangers since she successfully raised the Mashaba female. In fact, in 2010, there began a long period in which leopard cubs became as scarce as hen’s teeth.
The dearth of these beautiful and shy young animals went on for about two years, until one day in May 2012, tracker and wizard of the bush Freddy Ngobeni followed some female leopard tracks to a rocky section in the Tugwaan Drainage, and with ranger Talley Smith and their guests were the first to view the Dudley Riverbank female’s latest cub. The Dudley Riverbank female is directly descended from the original Mother Leopard of Londolozi, making her female cub the great, great granddaughter of that first iconic leopard.
For months, this elusive little cub and its mother were the hottest property on Londolozi, with never a drive going by without one of the vehicles heading down into the deep South to try and find them.
As fashions come and go, however, so too does the prominence of certain animals in the bush, and as 2012 moved on, new leopard cubs were discovered, belonging to the Maxabene, Ximpalapala, Piva, Vomba and Mashaba females. A very young cub is always a rare and exciting thing to see, so as the Dudley Riverbank cub grew and younger cubs living closer to camp became relaxed and viewable, the Dudley Riverbank female’s star and that of her youngster began to fade.
The wonderful thing about the cub is how relaxed it became at an early age. Although the territory in which its mother keeps it is thick and a tough area to find leopards in, the fact that the mother favoured the Mad Elephant Donga drainage system as a base made beginning the search each day far easier and sightings were frequent.
Older now but certainly not forgotten, the cub – who is approaching its first birthday – is still very dependant on her mother, and tracks of the two of them together are often found in the riverbeds and on the dusty roads and game-trails of Londolozi’s south-east.
Although the mad rush to try and view the cub as often as possible has past, a sighting of the relaxed young female and her wise old mother playing with each other amongst the jackalberry and leadwood trees that dot their territory will still certainly leave anyone with a memory to last a lifetime…
Written and photographed by James Tyrrell