There are certain iconic pictures that every guide at Londolozi would like to have the opportunity to take at some stage during their time here. Lions crossing the Sand River, mating leopards, a Fish Eagle swooping down on prey at the water’s surface – the list is long! If you spend a few years working here as a guide, odds are you will tick more off that list than not.
One that always eluded me – and probably the one I wanted the most – was the shot of a female leopard carrying one of its cubs; I mean is that really too much to ask?! After three years of guiding full time I hadn’t even come close. Whilst over the following five and a half years I have been able to make regular forays into the bush from the finance office, I had largely given up on ever getting this opportunity.
That was until last week.
Currently we are fortunate to have a number of different female leopards with cubs of varying ages. The problem with the shot I have been looking for is that once a leopard cub is older than around 2 – 3 months, it becomes unlikely that their mother will carry them as they are just too big and can walk on their own. This leaves a pretty small window of opportunity. Coupled with the the fact that they don’t move them that often during this period, the dens are usually in well hidden or inaccessible places and they are largely nocturnal so moving them at night isn’t an issue, you can see how this opportunity has eluded me.
Towards the end of April, ranger Talley Smith and tracker Freddy Ngobeni were driving guests Alex and Charlotte Schodl and managed to find what appeared to be the den site of the Tamboti female. They had seen her going into a hole in a river bank and could hear the sounds of cubs but never had a view. A few weeks later there was no further sign around that area, leading us to believe she may have moved the den.
Then last Wednesday I was out on a drive with Chris Kane-Berman and Jacqui Marais and we decided to head into the area the Tamboti female had last been seen, on the off chance that we might find her. As we crossed through the Maxabene, a dry riverbed that runs through central Londolozi, we spotted her downstream of us. We drove as far as we could towards her, our path eventually blocked by a fallen log, and watched. Her behaviour seemed odd – she was initially scraping at the sand with her paws, appearing to bury some of her own scat. She then just milled around, occasionally glancing to the far bank at a clump of roots that snaked out from a Leadwood tree. Although I’ve learnt not to get too excited in these situations, her behaviour combined with the suitability of the area for a den got us all hoping that this may be the spot.
Then without warning, she disappeared into the clump of roots, with just her tail protruding, and emerged with a cub in her mouth! There was a second of silence, then a few panicked expletives as we all lunged for our cameras. In what could not have been a better setting, she walked straight towards us and past the Land Rover, finally providing me with the opportunity I’ve been dreaming of for eight long years!