As guides we are privileged to call the vast open spaces of the bush our office. On a daily basis we get to explore this wilderness and get to witness some of natures most beautiful moments first hand. Every now and then this beautiful place gives us an experience that changes our lives. Recently I have been lucky enough to have a couple of these experiences and each one seems to be better than the last.
Approximately nine weeks ago, a beautiful leopardess, Nanga, gave birth to two cubs. Unfortunately one of the cubs did not make it, as is the case with approximately one in four leopard cubs in their first year. However, one cub has made it thus far and we have been blessed enough to view him with his mother on a couple of occasions.
The Nanga female was born to the Nyelethi 4:4 female in 2009 as part of a litter of three.
Nanga is one of our very popular females and has been well documented on the blog – view the video below to see the loving bonds between Nanga and her second litter born in 2013. Video footage by Richard Laburn.
I remember the morning well as I crossed the Sand River to go and view Nanga and her cub for the first time. Those of you who have been on safari will know the incredible thrill of finding an animal you have been longing to see. I couldn’t hide the excitement from my guests and I remember the butterfly feeling fill my chest when I was informed on the radio that she was at the den site. This meant that the male cub would more than likely show his little face to my guests and I for the first time. When we arrived Nanga was lying on the rocks above the area where the cub was hiding. She looked at us and then gave the distinctive contact call… a few seconds went by and we then heard his high pitched reply. This was followed by a moment I will never forget, he slowly lifted his head over the rocks looking at us curiously and in a flash came bouncing over towards his mother.
Like me, the small cub could not conceal his excitement and pounced on his mother, chasing her tail while she attempted to groom her newborn – a hyperactive little ball of spots.
He continued to climb down the rocks, hide and then stalk her. The playful nature of young cubs is important to ensure that they develop strong muscles and dexterity – it allows them to practice their reactions and to become confident in their skills. These skills will also come into good use in a few months when the cub learns to hunt.
We watched as Nanga managed to grab hold of him to get him ready for a bath.
After about 20 minutes of playful behaviour she got up and started walking away to a nearby tree and again called for him to join her. He climbed up, lacking the grace of a fully grown leopard but managed remarkably well for such a young cub. As the cub gets older he will be a lot stronger and able to cope with climbing trees with ease. The structure of their bodies are designed for climbing with powerful muscles to propel them upwards. Adam Bannister writes about their tree climbing abilities in an interesting article featured on our blog – click here to read.
She eventually left him at the den site and climbed into a marula tree to scan the area for potential prey.
About a week went by before I was lucky enough to see him again and we followed her tracks, accompanied by his, to their new den site. We sat at the site for about half an hour hoping to see them again. Every noise at that stage catches your attention as you are hoping to catch another glimpse. The patience paid off as we saw her climbing up some rocks where he was hiding. She then disappeared behind a boulder and we saw a glimpse of him jumping towards her. Again we sat and waited in silence. He then gave us the show of our lives and came out on top of the rocks, this time without his mother, to investigate the area.
We then noticed, hidden under some bushes, that she had brought an impala up to the den site to introduce him to the taste of meat. She hadn’t opened it up for him yet (which leopards will do for their cubs to allow them to feed). He eventually noticed it and eagerly attempted get a taste of this delicious meal.
He gave up after a few minutes and climbed a small stump to have a closer look at us.
After a little time had passed a contact call came from behind the rocks where his mother was lying and he disappeared back to join her. We left feeling extremely blessed and had smiles on our faces for the rest of the day. There are very few things in this life that I have seen that have been so pure and beautiful and I feel honoured to have been able to spend that time with these magnificent animals.
If you have been at Londolozi before, have you spent time with the Nanga female? What has your experience been like? Share your thoughts with us below.
Written and photographed by Nick Kleer
Video by Keith Rawlings