It’s not often that I’m glad I’m wrong, but a recent mistimed blog post that I scheduled to be posted when I was away from the lodge apparently came out a few days too late for what it was intended.
The Mashaba female was expected to give birth soon (at the time of writing), and we released a post speculating as to where she would choose to stash the cubs. Not only was I wrong about the site, but the date, as she was discovered with three brand new cubs by tracker Sersant Sibuyi and ranger Andrea Sithole on the 26th December – a week before the post went out – and we suspect that the youngsters were born during the night of the 25th, making them Christmas cubs. Some of the photos taken below, on the morning of the discovery of the den, are truly remarkable as we are sure you’ll agree.
When a leopard den is discovered, the usual protocol is to dispatch a vehicle to the site with senior rangers and/or management in order to establish operating procedures around it. The viewing of young leopard cubs is made on a case-by-case basis, but the general rule is to give them space for the first few weeks of their lives, not visiting the den and keeping impact and possible stress on the mother down to a minimum.
If the den is one that only permits a long distance view (eg. a rocky outcrop), that’s clearly a different scenario to one down in a drainage line where a vehicle could potentially get close and be far more impactful (like the one in this instance). The decisions made on viewing protocol are always to serve the interests of the animal(s) first.
The den the Mashaba female has chosen this time is very similar to her last one in the Maxabene riverbed; a deeply eroded gully that flows into the main river system. It is quite a random spot, so for now the decision has been made to leave the den area well alone, for a number of reasons:
- The cubs are absolutely tiny (less than two weeks old still) and utterly defenceless.
- The den is in no way secure and hiding places for the cubs are limited. It is therefore vulnerable to a raid by a rival predator.
- Vehicle movement around the den may draw unwanted attention to it, and hyenas are especially curious creatures by nature, so the risk of a hyena coming sniffing around would only be increased if vehicles were visiting the spot regularly.
- Actual viewing of the cubs would be very limited in any case, as the gully is very narrow, and continues around the corner, meaning they will be out of sight most of the time.
In a few weeks we will reassess the situation. The more prominent den sites the Mashaba female has used before are far more secure and within a few hundred metres of where the latest litter is currently being stashed, so we are hoping she will move to one of these spots soon. The cubs will be safer at those boulder-cluster dens and we might be lucky enough to be afforded the occasional view of them.
For now, we are extremely pleased (understatement) that there are three tiny leopard cubs on Londolozi. 2019 is off to a fantastic start!