There are no real photos to show in this post. There aren’t many stories to tell.
Sightings have been so scarce and fleeting that that in itself is the story.
In an almost identical way in which she herself grew up as an unrelaxed cub with her brother, concealed in the Sand River by her mother the Tutlwa female, the Nhlanguleni female is raising her offspring out of sight of the rangers, trackers and guests that criss-cross the reserve on a daily basis.
If we journey back to January this year, we can see in two posts how we suspected the presence of a litter of cubs in the Sand River, and how the den was subsequently discovered by some of Londolozi’s best trackers. Since the den was first found (with a litter of three cubs), the number of decent sightings of the cubs can probably be counted on the fingers of two hands, if that. Once the female began taking her cubs to kills (which happened almost immediately after they were first seen), we presumed that sightings would become more frequent, and although tracks were found, with the Nhlanguleni female being tracked to kills on a number of occasions, actual views of the cubs remained difficult to come by, so skittish were they proving.
This is almost a carbon copy of the Tutlwa female’s raising of the Nhlanguleni female and her sibling during 2011. Time and again the litter would be stashed in the Sand River, and tracking efforts would either lead to an area inaccessible by vehicles or to a fleeting glimpse of a cub scuttling into the undergrowth. I remember my first sighting of one of those cubs coming in mid-2011, and a further exciting encounter in November of that year.
Apart from that, I think I next glimpsed them when they were well over a year old, both on a kill with their mother on the rocks opposite Granite Camp next to the Sand River. Mike Sithole and I almost had tears in our eyes, so special was it to see these three leopards all together. Once they started becoming independent they would be seen a bit more, but would still be nervous around the vehicles, never having properly encountered them for long enough to become habituated.
Mother leopards are well known to cede off territory to their female offspring, and when the Nhlanguleni female reached independence, she was granted the use of the area in which she herself had been raised; the exact same are in which she is now raising her cubs.
So now we find ourselves with the Nhlanguleni cubs (a male and a female; the third disappeared when still young) at almost a year old, and hardly having been seen. And you know what, I think that’s awesome! In an area like the Sabi Sands, where most leopard cubs are viewed from a relatively early age and become habituated as a result, to have two individuals growing up hardly ever having seen a Land Rover – or at least not being viewed by a Land Rover; the’ve probably watched us driving past many times! – is remarkable, and pretty special if you ask me. We are incredibly fortunate at Londolozi to be able to traverse a large enough area that a litter of leopard cubs is able to grow and mature virtually in private in their own little corner of the reserve. Few photos of them exist, we aren’t quite sure what their spot patterns are, and as they approach one year old, the only thing we really know is that the female is a bit more relaxed than the male. Or is it the other way around? You know what, it doesn’t even matter…
They literally escaped the jaws of death the other day when three wild dogs treed both of them as well as the Nhlanguleni female, but I suppose that’s part of the learning experience of the bush. You either survive an encounter like that and learn, or you get killed. It’s as harsh and as simple as that.
The good news is that both cubs survived, both appeared healthy from the brief sighting that was had, and at the end of the day, that’s all we really need to know…