It had been raining the night before, which is good when following a leopard. It means the cat – presuming it’s a territorial adult – will almost certainly be on the move, scent marking as it goes and hopefully vocalising as well. Highly territorial animals, leopards primarily make use of scent to establish which area belongs to which individual. Their highly developed senses of smell are able to detect the scent of a rival, and they will keep clear (usually) if a territory is occupied.
We were following the Nhlanguleni female and her two cubs as they moved in the early morning sun. The adult female was scent marking regularly, trying to reestablish her territorial markers that the rain had washed away. Intersetingly enough one of the cubs was scent marking as well; more likely simply in imitation of its mother than anything else.
After drinking from a small pan, the Nhlanguleni female suddenly launched up into a marula tree, a favourite species for leopards here to climb.
The cubs followed her up and played in the branches for the next 10 or 15 minutes, although I admit to being so enthralled watching them that I only remembered to switch my camera on right at the end to record some footage. They were showered by sparkling raindrops and falling leaves, and we were reminded once again just how incredible a leopard’s sense of balance is in the trees!
Eventually the leopards descended and the mother led the cubs into the deep drainage system to the south-west of the Londolozi camps; a place they have been spending a lot of time but a place where it’s very difficult to get a vehicle in.
Knowing we’d had by far the best the sighting had to offer, we opted to let them go.
The Nhlanguleni female looks to be on the brink of being the first mother to raise a complete litter to independence since her mother raised her and her brother successfully. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this is so…