The Nhlanguleni female seems to be having great success in rearing her second litter of cubs, and we too are benefitting as sightings of the three have been nothing short of spectacular.
What is especially pleasing about this current litter is just different they are in temperament to her first litter of cubs. Sightings of that litter (initially three of them) were few and far between. They were first viewed at around 2 months old in a den north of the Sand River, but due in part to the female keeping them well hidden in the Sand River, they never got used to vehicles, and remained incredibly skittish until just over the age of one year, when they were killed – we believe – by the incumbent Flat Rock male.
It wasn’t too long before the Nhlanguleni female reproduced again, and so far the male population seems stable; a key factor in cub survival. With both the Anderson and Flat Rock males having mated with the female, both males are invested in the paternity, and both are comfortable with the cubs, and they with them. There was a brief scare earlier this year when the Hosana male stumbled upon the den site in which the cubs were hiding, but they escaped unscathed.
At the moment, with the Sand River essentially completely dry, access to the Nhlanguleni litter’s riverbed haunts has been relatively straightforward, and the twisty, turny channels are for the most part quite easy to navigate with a Land Rover. A combination of this ease of access and a far more localised movement of the female than we’ve seen in recent years, and you have the ingredients for a habituated litter of cubs.
Yet even before viewing became regular, the cubs were far more relaxed around vehicles than their predecessors. In some of their early dens, they would quite happily remain in the open even if their mother moved off, and these days, as they slowly close in on the golden age of one year, to see them moving with their mother through the riparian fringe along the river is an absolute delight.
While we can’t say for sure why these two cubs (both females as far as I’m aware) are far more habituated, it seems clear that leopards, like people, simply differ in temperament between individuals. Some cubs are bold, some are shy.
We can debate the whole thing ad infinitum, but there’s really no point. Far better I say, to just enjoy it for what it is, which is some of the most consistent leopard-and-cub viewing Londolozi has experienced in many a month.