A deeper passion grows for the bush and its wildlife during and after working at Londolozi. The passion is infectious amongst all staff; a seed is planted that grows in the soul of everyone who works in this incredible place. Rangers and trackers get their fix for nature daily, however for camp mangers and other back of house staff this is often not the case. A camp manager only experiences a fraction of their time out in the wilderness. We, as rangers and guests, don’t make it any easier by running into camp and telling our stories. The camp staff are always excited and willing to hear our constant amazing stories that the bush has provided. Some even live vicariously through all the special moments they hear and see through photography. I can sympathize with them to a certain degree; I get the fear of missing a special moment every time I am not out in the bush. That is why myself and tracker Lucky Shabangu, decided to use our morning off to take staff on a early morning game drive.
It was the first week of February and our ambitious plan was to go see if we could find the Ndzanzeni female’s cubs. We had to leave 04:00am and be back by 07:00am at the latest so the camp managers could get ready for their busy day. Fortunately for us we had a good idea of where the den might be; there was a sequence of tracks that had developed from the leopard’s impala kill and a set of boulders a couple hundred meters away which was where we suspected the cubs were being hidden. Lucky was also familiar with these rocks, as the Ndzanzeni female’s mother (the Dudley Riverbank Female) had once used the same rocks as a den.
We gradually approached the boulders just after day break just as the sun was beginning to rise; conditions were almost too perfect. On our arrival at the rocks Lucky spotted the female lying near one of the bigger clusters: my heart nearly launched out my chest with excitement! We sat quietly and waited patiently. It was only ten minutes later when we heard the first contact call. Shortly after the call two tiny shapes emerged slowly and cautiously from the boulders. We managed to spend a wonderful 30 minutes with the new leopard cubs before their mother carried them into the rocks before any other ranger could get there.
We knew how special our moment was but we didn’t expect that we would never see the cubs again. The Ndzanzeni spends time in an area where the soil is hard, which in turn makes it very difficult to track her. Since the morning in question we have been spending long hours trying to find her; the team kept coming across positive signs but never managed to find the cubs again. No one managed to be in the right place at the right time. We always wondered how successful she would be in raising her first litter. We question if the cubs are still alive considering the Sparta Pride have moved through her territory a number of times over the last month. The female has been seen mating again, and during the course of that sighting there were no signs of suckle marks, which strongly suggests that the cubs have been lost, and will remain nothing more than a memory.
For once, it was the turn of the camp staff to return with enormous smiles, knowing they now had a story of which they could brag, and that belonged to no-one else…