It was a slightly cloudy day as we set out on our early morning game drive. Tracker Sersant, our guests and I had planned to try and track down the Tamboti female leopard, in the hope that she might be with her 13-month old cub. We thought there was a good chance of finding her as the previous morning she had killed a common duiker and had fed on it throughout the day. We didn’t think that she would move too far from the kill as she would most likely be fairly full by the next morning.
Fresh pug marks led us away from the kill site, downstream in a nearby dry riverbed. The tracks of both mother and daughter headed out of the drainage line to the west, back towards where the mother had stashed the cubs a number of times in recent weeks. We drove some of the surrounding roads but as it had rained in the early hours of the morning, some of the fainter signs had been washed away. After about an hour of searching, my hopes were starting to fade a little.
We decided to switch the vehicle off, just to listen for a few minutes and see if we could hear any alarm calls. After only a few minutes we heard some tree squirrels alarming, but knowing how squirrels can alarm for many different reasons, not just leopards, we didn’t want to jump to conclusions. We headed towards where the squirrels were chattering shrilly, and suddenly Sersant spun round with a big grin, pointing to the thicket line and exclaiming, “Leopard, leopard, leopard!”
It was exactly the leopards we were looking for; the Tamboti female and her cub.
No matter how many times a guest has visited the African wilderness or how many years a guide has spent in the bush; we all know to see a leopard in the wild is a magical experience. Yet to see a female and cub in the wild is on a different level of incredible.
We followed the pair for well over an hour as they moved through a few thickets and open grasslands. They were heading in the direction on a prominent water hole, but just before reaching it, decided instead to drink from a shallow pan containing some much cleaner rain water. Realising that for the first time in my seven years as a guide I might have the opportunity to photograph a mother leopard drinking alongside her cub, I positioned accordingly, on the far side of the pan to where the leopards were approaching. My guests could see the excitement in my smile as I knew that today could be the moment I have been waiting for.
The stars aligned and the leopards went to the water exactly where we had hoped. We watched as they finished drinking and then moved off into a thicket, and our sighting was complete.
There was no way the morning could improve from there, so we left the two cats to move off into the undergrowth, content in the knowledge that we had just had as successful a game drive as we could have hoped for.,