Londolozi is an oxymoron in a way. It is a place that is centred around some of the best viewing of one of he most secretive cats in the world. We are so fortunate to watch and learn from these animals daily and need to remind ourselves frequently that the quality of sightings that have become the norm here, really are truly extraordinary. Recently we had a sighting of one of Londolozi’s shier leopards, which really just served to show how truly remarkable they are and how lucky we are in what we see here.
Shaun D’Araujo and Elmon Mhlongo were out on game drive with their guests when they stumbled upon one of Nhlanguleni female’s cubs. It was a young male and it was the only one that they saw. We know that the mother gave birth to three in November last year and the last time they were seen a few months ago, two of them were spotted. Because they have been seen so infrequently and because they are so shy, we can’t be sure if it is only this young male that remains or if its sibling just went unnoticed.
Imagine the excitement on the vehicle when it was spotted though. This cub is about eight months old but has probably only been seen by guests just a handful of times. It really is true testimony to the secretive nature of leopards and their cubs. Even this youngster’s mother was incredibly secretive, also being seen infrequently till the age of about 4. The fact that her territory falls mostly around the Sand River means that she has ample areas to disappear into but it also points to the fact that a leopard that doesn’t want to be seen, won’t.
Born to the Tutlwa female in early-mid 2011, the Nhlanguleni female spent her formative months (and years) in and around the Sand River.
Elmon spotted the cub up in a tree and when it saw them, it nervously came down and hid in a thicket at the base. Shaun moved the vehicle back and they sat quietly from a respectful distance, attempting to let the cub relax in their presence and show that they were not a threat. Slowly but surely it began to settle down and move around, peering inquisitively out at the vehicle, much happier at the distance that they were now at. There really is a lot to be said for being able to see leopards mating in plain sight or to have them stalk within metres of your vehicle without even glancing in your direction but at the same time there is also something incredibly special about having to really work to see a leopard. To back off and sit patiently as this wild creature decides whether it will show itself to you or not. The feeling of privilege when it does edge closer to you is immense and you get the very real sensation that you’re adding another important piece to the bridge in the trust relationship between human and leopard. It is something I have always treasured about my years in the bush.
As they sat quietly, they were surprised by the sound of lions mating close by. When the cub heard this it scrambled back up the tree, proving that at eight months it is rather ‘street wise’ and knows how to avoid danger. It was at this point that they managed to capture this one and only photograph, shown above. The youngster continued to watch the vehicle nervously from a distance and didn’t relax much more so they decided to leave it, not wanting to stress it at all and moved off to find the mating lions.
One of the guests on the vehicle, Caroline Delafield, who was there with her family, was completely blown away by this sighting and said that although it only lasted a few minutes, it was the highlight of her safari. She felt so incredibly privileged to be one of the few people in the world to have seen this particular leopard and she said when she saw the smiles, excitement and high 5 shared between Shaun and Elmon, one of Londolozi’s longest standing trackers, she realised just how fortunate she had been.
Sometimes it’s these little moments; the worked for ones, seen through thick brush, amongst hushed voices that prove to be the most sacred. Moments that remind us how far we have come in the last few decades and just how lucky we are to see what we see in this remarkable place.