I am always reticent to share my most memorable sightings. I get concerned that I may cause a ripple of FOMO (fear of missing out) to those not with me at the time or may set up exceptionally high expectations for those guests planning to visit Londolozi. But then I remember that we are not separate, we are all connected and that every time I hear of someone else’s joyous moments, in some way they become mine too. When I hear good news it makes my heart warm; when I witness the success of another I feel my spirit lift and when I read about someone else’s remarkable experience, in a sense I am given the chance to live that experience too. And so with that in mind, I’d like to share one of my best sightings with you.
James Tyrrell and I were out on drive the other day and were heading along a densely vegetated road that runs parallel to a drainage line when we caught sight of a female leopard lounging on a low rocky outcrop. Carefully we turned and maneuvered the vehicle off the road and upon getting a closer look, were astonished to be met by three additional little faces peeking up from behind her. We had found the Mashaba female and her three very infrequently seen little cubs.
It was one of those moments when absolutely everything you could wish for comes together at once. A leopard lying out in the open, her young cubs inquisitively watching from nearby and if that’s not enough, there were three of them.
Although leopards are capable of having three cubs, they much more commonly only have two youngsters. This mere fact made the moment all the more profound.
We sat beaming with joy, completely astounded by our luck. Together we have a combined 16 years of working in the bush between us and yet neither of us could recall having had such an amazing cub sighting before. The cubs soon lost interest in us and began playing with each other and their mother. Her tail became the ultimate prize for a game of catch and her stomach a makeshift trampoline for the cubs to clamber over. On a few occasions, she snapped and snarled at them, losing her temper with the three highly rambunctious little beings.
The funniest was watching the three of them fight for a spot to suckle from. They make a growling noise far bigger than you’d imagine their small bodies can muster and were not afraid to hand one another off with claws extended for their chance to drink.
Just a few days ago, we discovered the sad news that one of the Nkoveni female leopard’s cubs had been killed by the Flat Rock male. This will be reported on by Nick Kleer in a blog due to be published in the next few days. Although nothing can ever really make news like that better, it was beautiful to realise in that moment at the rocky outcrop that these two adult females share a bloodline. The Mashaba female is the mother of the Nkoveni female and so we hope that despite the Nkoveni female’s sad loss, there is still hope that the Mashaba female will be able to grow the family tree.
A gorgeous female who is found to the east of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
We are assuming that the father of the Mashaba female’s cubs is the Flat Rock male as he was the only male covering her territory prior to their birth and was seen mating with the Mashaba female a few months back. With this male steadily expanding his territory around the Sand River, both east and west of the Londolozi camps, we can only hope that he is able to protect these youngsters from any new males moving into the area looking to take over the now-deceased Piva male’s territory.
A dominant male leopard over the majority of the north. He originally took over the 4:4 Male's territory when he died.
Directly descended from the original mother leopard and therefore part of the royal lineage of Londolozi.
As we have seen time and time again, the lives of young leopards (in fact any young creature out here) are incredibly fragile but we have witnessed three cubs being successfully raised to independence before, with the well-known Nanga female being one of that leap. Can you just imagine if the Mashaba female were able to achieve this same feat?
The Nanga female was born to the Nyelethi 4:4 female in 2009 as part of a litter of three.
During that sighting, those cubs were doing nothing more than being themselves and yet, without knowing it, they gave James and me so much. For me, there is something so inherently generous and abundant about a moment like that. Like a gift given straight to us from nature. If you’d like to see them in action, click on the video below captured by Grant Rodewijk a few days ago.
The narratives we tell ourselves about the world are the ones that shape our experience of it and impact where we see our place in it. Because of this, I believe we should be re-crafting those narratives to share the stories that perpetuate joy. And so even if you’ve inadvertently been given FOMO through this post, I’m not sure I can apologise 😉 Hopefully, rather than setting up high expectations, sharing this moment lays a seed of hope in you that you too may be privileged enough to see something remarkable like this in real life one day. Feel free to spread the joy abundantly by sharing this post with those whose day and outlook you’d like to brighten.