I often get asked what has been my favourite sighting of all time and it gets me thinking. It is a tough question because of just how varied sightings can be and the emotions that get stirred up differ greatly, from watching new born leopard cubs for the first time to the thrill of watching a hunt.
For me, I definitely cannot pin down one specific sighting and say that’s the one that is better than all the others. I would have to say that being very lucky to have the luxury of time out here, my favourite “sighting” would have to be watching the Ndzanzeni young male leopard grow from a little cub into a big male. Even though he still has some growing to do I was struck with an incredible sense of nostalgia when I saw him a few days back in the presence of the Mashaba female.
I first laid eyes on this leopard when he was only a few weeks old. Born to the Ndzanzeni female and with one other sibling, the three of them were always a favourite sighting when they were found in the south-eastern parts of the reserve. As he got older we became used to seeing this maturing male slowly gaining more and more independence and were completely gobsmacked when the most astonishing picture of him catching an Nyala was caught on a camera trap survey.
This female is a success story all in herself, being born as a single cub to the Dudley Riverbank female in early 2012.
I had always thought of him as a harmless juvenile male leopard with memories of him as a tiny cub rooted in my mind. This all changed the day as he was witnessed killing the cubs of the Mashaba female in the Maxabene river. He was now behaving like a normal adult male leopard and was definitely growing up. Ironically, a few days back it was his behaviour with the Mashaba female again which further highlighted his transition into adulthood. They were mating.
As I watched this fascinating aspect of leopard behaviour, the mating ritual, I could not help picturing this tiny vulnerable cub poking his head out from behind some rocky boulders along the the Tugwaan river bed only a couple of years ago. It was almost impossible to believe that that same little cub was now mating with the Mashaba female in front of me. The sighting itself was an incredible one, but having followed the growth of the Ndzanzeni young male and seeing just what he had been through to get to that point was the true highlight.