In July 2015 our guide, Andrea Campbell, wrote a blog entitled “The Most Hardcore Animal in the Bush: the Female Leopard” and during our recent visit to Londolozi we enjoyed a sighting of the shy Nhlanguleni female leopard that perfectly illustrated this.
Initially skittish she spent a lot of time in the Sand River, now relaxed she makes up the majority of leopard viewing west of camp.
Whilst my husband Richard & I had been on other safaris, we were visiting Londolozi for the first time to celebrate a significant birthday of mine. We had already enjoyed four days of fantastic game viewing with Andrea & Jerry and we had seen the Matimba males, the Tsalala pride with their cubs, the Mashaba female leopard, a cheetah on a kill, numerous elephants, rhino, zebra, buffalo, wildebeest and all manner of other creatures including a spectacular night time show put on by the fireflies over the Causeway Crossing.
We were nearing the end of our stay at Tree Camp where Phil and his team had looked after us so well. It was our last evening game drive and having assembled on the deck for tea and cake (delicious by the way!) Andrea came rushing in and said we had a choice to make: did we want to try and track down the pack of wild dog that were reportedly in the southern part of the reserve or did we want to go and try and find the shy Nhlanguleni female leopard who had some cubs? She had been spotted crossing one of the many tracks earlier in the day in the northern part of the reserve by the maintenance team, who were out doing some essential repairs. What a choice to have to make!
We opted to try and find the leopard.
Find her we did – she was sat above a drainage line, close to the remains of a kill which was stashed in a nearby tree. Andrea & Jerry said that the cubs would be nearby and that this particular female was quite shy but she was much more relaxed around vehicles now than she was when she was younger.
We settled down to wait in the hope that she might call the cubs to come out. It was a beautiful warm afternoon and the Nhlanguleni female moved into the cool drainage ditch to stretch out and relax.
However, any chance that she might have called the cubs were dashed by the appearance of an inquisitive hyena who was clearly looking for any scraps. The leopardess defended her ground robustly and for a few seconds she and the hyena “had serious words”! Thankfully the hyena sloped off without further incident and peace was restored.
The leopard relaxed once more, but despite her moving around and providing some great photographic opportunities, it was clear that we weren’t going to see the cubs that evening. We headed back to camp elated that we had spent two hours in the company of a leopard in such circumstances but perhaps a little disappointed that we hadn’t got to see the cubs.
So the next morning – sadly our final game drive – we decided to return to see if we could find the female again and possibly the cubs. We returned to the site and miraculously there she was in the open, on the move and the cubs were with her!
The Nhlanguleni female was moving quite quickly as there was an elephant family close by, barging their way through the bush en route to the river. Together with Jerry’s help, Andrea had to use all her driving skills to manoeuvre the Land Rover through the thickets so that we could follow the mother leopard and her cubs. All the time the elephants were relentlessly moving in our direction at some speed.
The leopard family moved through thickets and clearings and we got a good view of them as they moved through a slightly more open area. With the mother leading, the cubs followed; first one which was clearly quite nervous and then the second who almost sauntered across the clearing looking straight at us as it passed.
We last saw the family as they disappeared into dense thickets where even the brilliant Land Rover could not follow.
We had so many special sightings during our visit to Londolozi, but having had time to reflect I think this sighting of the Nhlanguleni female and her cubs has to be the highlight. We got a brief and rare insight into the world of a beautiful mother leopard at her best bringing up two youngsters against all the odds. Hardcore? Absolutely. I don’t know if we shall ever have the opportunity of spending as much time in the company of a leopard like that ever again.
We have been privileged to visit Londolozi and hopefully we will be fortunate enough to return one day. We would love to bring our family and “grand-cubs” when they are older and who knows perhaps we shall see those leopard cubs again when they too are grown up. That’s a thought.
Written and Photographed by Gillian Drewitt, Londolozi Guest