There is no argument that tiny, blue-eyed leopard cubs are heart melters. Mewling, fumbling about in long grass with spots so close together they look grey… I don’t know anyone that can resist a newborn leopard. This is why what I’m about to say may come as quite a shock. In the last little while I’ve realised that ‘teenage’ leopard cubs are even better.
The daughter of Sunsetbend female, is named Xidulu which means termite mound in Shangaan.
The Xidulu female leopard has two cubs that are about one year old. Anywhere between now and a year from now, these cubs will become independent, leaving their mother for good. This means that they’re at an age where they’re quite markedly honing their skills so that once they leave their mother they’ll be capable of looking after themselves. This includes keeping themselves safe, finding water, making kills and navigating their way to establishing a new territory for themselves. The last few game drives we have been returning to this leap, who remained in the same vicinity for a few days to feed on a young impala kill. For me these cubs are at such an amazing age because they’re independent enough to be adventurous and young enough to be energetic and playful.
The male and female cubs would wonder down to a waterhole to drink on their own without the safety of their mother. They’d scale up the Marula trees dotted on the crest to satisfy their curiosity. They’d chase each other in the long grass, stalk wildebeest far too big for them to even begin catching and hiss at hyenas lurking below the tree they were feeding in. We watched them rest together in a tangle of spots to keep warm in the cold, drizzly weather. And they played with and groomed one another. They seemed to have competitions as to how high they could get above each other on fallen stumps and stalked any bird brazen enough to land in their proximity.
We were then lucky enough to see the Nanga female and her even younger cub a few days later. Being about six months old, this cub is also starting to get rather rambunctious. The video below is of the young female chasing and playing with her mother. You can imagine that despite having motherly duties, the Nanga female leopard still has to hunt, patrol her territory and find time to rest. So in those times when she is otherwise pre-occupied, this cub doesn’t have a play mate. Essentially being solitary animals, I doubt being alone really bothers the youngster but from my perspective, life doesn’t look like nearly as much fun. Although the cub can stalk birds and squirrels, climb trees and wile away the time, one can’t help but notice how she seems to take advantage of the times when her mother is around to play. We’ve had countless leopards that have grown up as single cubs and been incredibly successful hunters as adults but I do also think that the constant play cubs coming from bigger litters are exposed to must be an advantage when it comes to honing their skills and muscle development.
The Nanga female was born to the Nyelethi 4:4 female in 2009 as part of a litter of three.
As always, we have to be careful not to anthropomorphise. And I am well aware that I’ll never really know if bigger litters have more fun than single cubs growing up. The one thing I am sure of though is that these ‘teenage’ cubs have wend their way into my heart with their antics. I look forward to the months of rambunctious play coming our way as Londolozi’s leopard cubs grow up.