I am sure a lot of you have built up in your mind some sort of bucket list sighting. You hold this thought in the back of your mind and every now and then it pops up to the front just to remind you what you have not seen. You may hear stories of other people’s bush trips where they were lucky enough to see exactly what you wanted to, or they may confront you with their photos just to rub it in a bit more. Either way you just keep dreaming.
I have been lucky enough to have seen a number of incredible things here at Londolozi and I most certainly do not take that for granted.
One that has always eluded me though was seeing a leopard in full leap across the river. I have seen some amazing photos from the other guides in the team who were in the right place at the right time but never for myself. That was all about to change.
After an incredible tracking effort one morning by Rich Mthabine, he managed to find the two female cubs of the Nhlanguleni female. We spent a bit of time with them hoping that their mother would return but to no avail. Our plan was to return back to that area in the afternoon hoping she would have returned during the day so that we could view her and her litter all together.
Born to the Tutlwa female in early-mid 2011, the Nhlanguleni female spent her formative months (and years) in and around the Sand River.
We found the two youngsters fairly quickly as they were in the same place that we had left them that morning. The adult female was not there though. A little disheartened we decided to sit it out and see if she would return. The sun was still high in the sky and I thought we would be in for a long wait but luckily I was wrong. Rich – one of our guests on the car – spotted some movement some way away and our attention was quickly drawn in that direction. As we turned we watched the mother leopard emerge from a grassy thicket, softly contact calling for her cubs. There was a great reunion as the cubs ran over to her and took turns grooming and rubbing heads affectionately with their mother, just reaffirming that strong family bond.
That in itself would have made the most awesome sighting but these leopards were not finished just yet. Instead of settling down in the shade due to the heat the Nhlanguleni female seemed to be determined to move. She led the cubs in the opposite direction from which she had come; she looked as though she might be headed towards the river but it was too early to jump to conclusions. We speculated that she might have made a kill during the day and was leading her cubs back to it. We waited on the last road she would have to cross before we could get excited about a potential river crossing and as they walked purposefully across the road we all started to get very excited.
We lost view of them temporarily and quickly drove along the road parallel to the river before we saw them emerge onto the soft sand of the riverbed. They were headed towards the middle channel which they were surely going to jump across! We checked our camera settings very quickly to make sure our shutter speeds were high enough to freeze the action and held our breath. This is what happened next:
Once back at camp I became that person showing off my photos to everyone who was or wasn’t even remotely interested. All of us on the car that afternoon had the biggest smiles and could not stop talking about how lucky we had been. We had worked hard to find the cubs in the morning, Rich had tracked on foot for ages, we had sat in the hot sun for hours, we stuck to our guns and went back in the afternoon and were rewarded with a bucket list sighting. Sometimes patience pays off and other times it doesn’t but that day was ours and one that none of us would forget in a long time.
Hold on to those bucket list dreams and keep coming up with more, you honestly never know when they will come true. It may take years, or they might happen on your first safari. You may think they will never come true, until they do.