Leaving Founder’s Camp on an absolutely beautiful morning, tracker Gerry Hambana and I had great plans for our morning drive. Our aim was to track and find a pair of mating leopards.
Any sighting of a leopard is an incredible and breath-taking experience as these animals live such secretive lives. For the most part they’re solitary creatures and prefer dense vegetation where they can utilise their stealth, camouflage and ambush hunting techniques to sneak up on their prey. At Londolozi we are extremely privileged though because due to the relaxed nature of the leopards, developed over decades of building a trusting relationship with these shy cats, we now get to view and learn about one of the most secretive creatures that roam this planet.
About ten minutes into the safari Gerry gave the signal to stop and indicated that he’d found some tracks. There is always a moment of great anticipation for me as to what tracks he has spotted. With excitement levels rising, we climbed off the vehicle and started to inspect the pug marks on the road. At first the tracks looked like those of a lone female leopard but after further inspection it became evident that it was in fact a male and female together, the mating pair we had set out to look for. The tracks appeared to be from late the previous night and were zigzagging across the road and soon we were able to establish the direction they were heading in.
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.
Gerry being the legend and master of his craft decided that we should not follow the tracks one by one and rather follow his gut feel, which is so often spot on. He therefore predicted where he thought they might move and we leapt ahead of the tracks. Heading south along another road the tracks appeared once again where Gerry thought they would. These tracks were now much fresher. Fairly soon after, the tracks cut off the road and Gerry and Tracker Euce left the vehicle to walk into the drainage line, following the trail of the pair. The sand had been compacted from the rain two nights prior so this made it difficult and slow going so Alistair (another ranger looking for the same animals) and I broadened the search net, heading further west to look and listen for any signs of the leopards.
We were now about an hour and a half into the exercise and doubts were starting to creep in as to whether we were going to be able to find these leopards.
Then all of a sudden… Boom! Alistair had found them, with the trackers just a few hundred meters from their position. Heading into the sighting, I turned back to see the expression on my guests’ faces as they saw not one but two leopards in the wild for the first time in their lives. The look was worth a million words.
We followed the leopards as they moved through the bush, witnessing some spectacular behaviour as the female tried to entice and seek the attention of the male, which for the first 30 minutes he had no interest in, growling, hissing and snarling at her.
The Nhlanguleni female kept persisting and trying to entice the Flat Rock male by swishing her tail in his face and lying down in front of him, presenting herself to him. Eventually he took interest and we were privy to two bouts of mating. The affair is quick but aggressive with the male biting down on the female’s neck before she turns around to swat him resulting in an impressive leap from his as he tries to get out of the way of her exposed claws. For me who has been lucky enough to see this before I am still awed by it so you can imagine how my guests felt.
For me one of the most rewarding parts of being a guide is getting to witness incredible sightings such as this one but it’s made even better by the fact that I get to share and experience it with guests from all over the world. This was a sighting we will all remember for a very long time; a truly special morning for all.