The Tamboti female has been featuring more and more prominently as a territorial leopard on Londolozi over the last year-and-a-half. The recent birth of two cubs (believed to be a male and a female) has shot her into the limelight, and scarcely a drive goes by without some ranger and tracker team actively seeking her out.
A part of her territory extends just beyond our borders, but sojourns out of Londolozi have been few. We recently found tracks of her taking the cubs off our property for what we think is the first time, but only a few days after finding the tracks, the mother was found by Talley Smith and Freddy Ngobeni in the Serengeti drainage line, looking stick thin. Concern for the three leopards obviously rose, as the female currently has excessive energy demands placed upon her body; hunting not only for herself but for two growing youngsters.
After viewing her briefly that evening, all vehicles moved out of the area well before dark to allow her space to hunt.
The next day tracks of both her and the cubs were found by Elmon Mhlongo in the Maxabene riverbed, proof that she had brought her youngsters back to her preferred hunting grounds. The tracks eventually led to a large, grass-covered termite mound in the shade of a giant ebony tree. Tracks of the female then led north out of the riverbed again, but there was a small group of female Nyala staring at the termite mound and emitting an occasional alarm-bark, which convinced us that the cubs had beens stashed in the mound while their mother went hunting.
Returning to the area that afternoon we sat quietly near the mound, listening for any betraying rustle of grass, when the silence was broken by the angry snort of a buffalo close at hand. Tracker Mike Sithole suspected that the buffalo might have seen the cubs, and so back to the riverbed we went, driving down the watercourse until we came across an enormous buffalo bull lying in the sand. All looked peaceful until a second buffalo emerged from the bushes, his horns adorned with the leaves of a Peltaphorum bush which he had clearly been horning. Mike scanned the area for any Peltaphorum bushes, and his sharp eyes soon picked up the unmistakeable shape of a small leopard cub perched in a knobthorn branch, behind the bush which the buffalo had been goring.
The cub did not seem the least bit fazed by this close encounter with one of the most dangerous animals in the bush, but we were concerned for the second cub which was nowhere to be seen. Our concerns were short-lived as a rustling of branches revealed the second cub descending from the boughs of a tamboti tree where it had sought refuge.
There was no sign of the mother and so after a brief view of the wonderfully relaxed cubs we left them in peace for the evening.
The next morning rangers Dean Smithyman and Mark Nisbet, together with trackers Elmon Mhlongo and Oxide Ndlovu, headed for the Maxabene, and after a truly superb 2-hour tracking effort by Oxide and Elmon, found the cubs with their mother on a fresh kill near the Tugwaan drainage line. The bush was very thick and the vehicles were unable to establish exactly what had been killed, but the concern for the Tamboti female was allayed as the sounds of feeding emanated from the drainage line into which she had dragged the carcass.
As I write this the three leopards are happily ensconced in a little stream bed, all of them with full bellies, all thanks to the hunting prowess of the Tamboti female.
Written and photographed by James Tyrrell