It has been a few weeks now that any sign of the Mashaba female’s cubs have been seen. The first suspicions of a new litter were in early March. She had been spending a fair amount of time just east of camp and her tracks were going in and out of an area far too regularly for it to just be a kill stashed in the area.
Rangers and trackers were spending more and more time in that area with varied success. Very often the only evidence of her presence were shapes in the sand where her feet had quietly been placed and sometimes she was found, followed and lost going into the inaccessible river. Not long after the growing interest she was spotted and prominent stains were seen on her underside where cubs had been suckling. A new litter was surely being kept in the river and this was the confirmation we were looking for.
Late floods were predicted and through the weather forecasts we could see a recipe for disaster in the week that followed. Stress levels rose along with the water, until a report came after an evening safari, where just outside of camp the Mashaba female was seen carrying a tiny ball of fur, she had managed to save at least one cub! How had she foreseen the looming flood? The days after that none of us really knew where she had moved her den to. But early one day she led an exceptionally lucky set of guests back to her den ,where, not one but THREE cubs were seen. Very rarely are three cubs born in the area and not even five minutes from camp we were fortunate enough to have it accessible to us.
Even though this den site was accessible it didn’t make it smooth sailing, to have the correct timing out here is easier said than done and to have the mother there with the cubs (to make viewing the youngsters possible) is tricky. This was the first of a few sites that the Mashaba female was to use. At each site, viewing was difficult, either rocks or dense bush kept us constantly wanting more of the young cubs that were often heard but not seen.
Not long after the cubs were old enough for them to move to kills with their mother tragedy struck. One of the cubs’ bodies was seen in a tree, lifeless, in the area where they were seen. A heart breaking event that left the Londolozi ranging team speechless. Was it just the one or was the whole litter gone? Tracks of a male in the area and the discovery of a young nomad not too far off left only speculation.
This was not only a blog to break sad news of a litter that was never officially introduced but it is also one of new hope. The Mashaba female has recently been seen mating with the Marthly male, we suspect that this means all the cubs are gone but hopefully in the months to come a new litter with new challenges and new possibilities will be followed.
We would love hear about your experiences with leopard cubs while on safari and how you enjoyed the incredible privilege of spending time with them.
Written by: Simon Smit
Photographed by: Simon Smit and James Tyrrell