It had been a few days of incredible experiences and unbelievable sightings yet lions were still on the list to be tracked and found. A clear, cool, crisp morning sent us down into the south-eastern parts of Londolozi in search of these apex predators. We switched the vehicle off every few minutes to allow for the possibility of hearing any distant roars travelling through the icy air. A faint call got us excited and we continued in the direction it came from. Hopes were high yet there was this underlying feeling that the roar might be further than anticipated and in an area that may be inaccessible, yet we pursued.
We reached an area the Ntsevu pride had been frequenting over the previous few weeks yet not a single footprint lay in the sandy roads we had driven. The sun began to rise and drenched the landscape in deep red, orange and golden hues, which allowed for the most unbelievable silhouettes, until one particular silhouette stuck out from the rest. There, atop a termite mound, stood the distinguishable shape of a female leopard. It caught us totally off-guard. We were so focused on our search for lions that we almost had tunnel vision. Yet this scene did not simply end with us in awe at the silhouette in front of us. Seconds later a second leopard appeared from around the mound. It was a cub! Our excitement levels rose as they began moving into a large open clearing. A few minutes later we noticed that these two leopards were not alone as a third individual appeared from the opposite side of the mound, the Inyathini male.
These three leopards sauntered through the clearing only meters apart, and if distance ever separated them they would get closer to one another via contact calls. It was incredible to witness three leopards so close together in such a big clearing, to see how relaxed the Inyathini male and the cub were and to see the interaction between them. Dominant male leopards don’t often spend time with other individuals unless it’s due to mating or food and they certainly don’t tolerate the presence of another adult male or cub that is not their own. But to bear witness to the playful behaviour between the Inyathini male and cub was a first for me.
To see the submission of the dominant male every time the cub would approach it and play. What put me back was how relaxed the cub was. A cub that is usually very shy at the presence of a vehicle was now confident and completely disinterested in us. Could this be because of the Inyathini male’s presence? The scene allowed for the most incredible photographic opportunities. This went on for a good period of time, with contact calling from the Inyathini male every time the cub and mother distanced themselves. Eventually they moved into a dense thicket and parted ways.
This female is a success story all in herself, being born as a single cub to the Dudley Riverbank female in early 2012.
It just goes to show that no matter how many game drives one does, there is always the element of surprise and the chance of experiencing the unexpected. It’s what feeds the fire to get out on drive every single day and bear witness to the unexpected but also to keep an open mind as you never know what might be around the next corner.