A few years ago I was fortunate to live and work in South Africa. Given that I am keen amateur wildlife photographer, I spent as much of my spare time as I could in the bush. Over the three years I was in SA, I was lucky to see almost everything – except that is, the elusive leopard.
A colleague told me that I should go to Londolozi for the best chance of seeing one, so as my time in SA was coming to an end, I did just that. Over a two day stay at Varty Camp in late 2011, we (myself and my parents who were visiting me at the time), saw seven different leopards.
At last, the leopard was not so elusive.
I now live in Ireland, and I certainly miss the bush. As it happens so do my parents! So last month the three of us returned to Londolozi, this time staying at Founders Camp for three nights. I know that there is absolutely no guarantee that guests get to see Leopards Of Londolozi, so expectations weren’t that high. Honest.
When we met Andrea and Advice (our Ranger and Tracker) for our first game drive, we said that we saw seven leopards last time and that, jokingly, we were hoping to beat that. Andrea said that the pressure was on. Advice just smiled.
Within five minutes, Andrea had found our first leopard – in a tree with her kill, considering her next move as two hyenas were circling. That spot set the tone for the rest of our stay at Londolozi, as over the course of six drives we saw 12 different leopards. Yes, 12! Way beyond expectations.
Andrea and Advice worked brilliantly together and were determined to find us the best spots. On one of the afternoon drives, we headed out to find the Nhlanguleni female’s cubs. We eventually found one of the them, and having spent some time with it, we then headed out to find the Flat Rock Male who had been spotted near the Sand River.
On the way, Advice suddenly shouted ‘leopard’. Andrea stopped the jeep and asked where it was. Advice pointed to a tree some 100m away. We all looked. And we looked again. Even through binoculars, we couldn’t see anything.
Andrea found a way through the bush and as we closed in on the tree that Advice had pointed at, we still couldn’t see the leopard. Even at 10 metres away, we couldn’t see it. We got even closer, and then sure enough, there was a leopard relaxing on a branch and quite hidden from view. How Advice spotted that leopard from that distance, I will never know. It turns out it was the Mashaba female.
The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best-known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the vehicles.
Continuing the journey to find the Flat Rock Male, ten minutes later Advice spotted another leopard, this time near the airstrip. We were in awe. Imagine seeing two leopards that you weren’t expecting to see on the way to find another leopard that you were hoping to see. Worth saying we also saw the Flat Rock Male that drive. So that was four different leopard spots on one drive.
One of the best things about having a private vehicle was that on the morning drives there was no rush to get back to Camp for breakfast – indeed, breakfast came to us! One morning we tracked the Ximungwe Female leopard, and Andrea hoped that she would take us to where she was keeping her month-old cubs. Unfortunately, she didn’t, but that didn’t matter. What was beyond expectations, was finding ourselves having a delicious breakfast in the jeep parked next to the Marula tree in which the leopard was resting. Occasionally, she looked down on us to see what we were eating.
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
The following morning, breakfast was brought out to us again, and this time we had breakfast alongside some other cubs – lion cubs. Three of them together with three lionesses. Whilst the lion cubs played with each other, we munched on our tasty croissants and drank our coffee. Moments that stay with you forever.
Many thanks to Andrea and Advice, and the entire team at Founders Camp for making our few days at Londolozi so memorable.
But next time, the target to beat will be 12!