The Tamboti female gave birth to a litter of two a few months ago. As leopard cubs are very well secreted by their mothers during the first few weeks and months of their lives, it is rare to catch a glimpse of them at all. It is usually only when the female starts taking them to kills to eat meat for the first time (at around two and a half months old) that regular viewing can properly commence.
During their early weeks of life, cubs will be moved regularly to new den sites in order to avoid unwanted attention on where they are being stashed. After a while the smell of cubs begins to accumulate around a den, and repeated returns to the boulder cluster or thicket by the mother may result in her repetitive movement being followed by a hyena, endangering the cubs. As a result, when the cubs are still too small to walk far, the mother will gently pick them up by their necks, with teeth that can crush the vertebrae of an impala, and transport them one by one to a new abode she has selected.
Actually witnessing a female leopard carrying a cub is high on many rangers’ bucket lists, although most realise they will never be fortunate enough to have that privilege. Cubs are regularly moved in the dead of night, and the leopardess will move through thickets, avoiding prying eyes. New dens are usually not too far from the previous one, mainly so that the female can avoid having to carry a cub for too far, also not leaving any remaining cubs (they are carried one by one) unattended for an extended period of time.
I’m sure you can guess what’s coming next…
Christmas came early for a number of rangers, trackers and guests last year, with some of us being lucky enough to see the Tamboti female transporting her cubs between dens.
Have a look at the following pictures:
The following few photos were from a few days later…
After the above photos were taken (all were taken within the space of a few days), the Tamboti female moved her den a couple more times over the next week, eventually moving the cubs further east of the Londolozi boundary. Around Christmas time, she had an aggressive encounter with the Dudley Riverbank 5:5 male very close to where she was believed to be stashing the litter. Although she stayed in the area calling for a few days, no further sign of the cubs has been seen since then.
Although we are not 100% sure of their fate, we are well aware of how low the chances of leopard cub survival in a predator-rich environment like the Sabi Sand are, so we sadly fear the worst….
Photographs by Trevor McCall-Peat, Simon Smit and James Tyrrell, Londolozi Rangers and Rex Miller, Private Guide