Incredible opportunity–love the blue eyes. I always find the leopards’ eyes to be so vivid.
Being a part of the Londolozi studio means that I am constantly immersed in photography, assisting guests with any photographic query they might have. Helping with photo editing, canvas printing, photographic tips and techniques, it’s all part of my day-to-day. One of the greatest perks of the job is occasionally being invited out on drive to assist in getting that bucket list shot…
After a couple of Lightroom Tutorial sessions with one of our guests, Ranger Andrea Sithole suggested that I join them for a couple of drives to provide some first-hand photographic help. We scheduled for the next morning.
Andrea said, “We are leaving early boet (brother), meet 04;30 on deck for coffee!” This is an hour earlier than usual game drive time, but I knew Andrea had a plan and normally that turns into something amazing.
The morning came, I stepped out of my room and it was still pitch black. I made my way to Varty deck where I was met by Andrea and Sersant preparing some freshly brewed coffee before we set out on drive. I sipped my coffee overlooking the Sand River as the bush was starting to awaken from its slumber; the sounds, the smells in the crisp morning air, the light creeping over the horizon… I remember thinking to myself what a privilege it is to be able to do this for a living.
At 04:45 we got into the Land Rover and set off, past the local waterhole where we were met by the snorts and grunts of the hippos who had just returned from a night out feeding. After driving for roughly ten minutes, we were met by a herd of impala alarm calling and Andrea immediately exclaimed “There is a leopard here! There is a leopard here!”. With years of guiding and tracking experience behind him, we were supremely confident in his call, and sure enough, there moving into thicker bush was a leopard. It was the Finfoot female. She was trying to avoid the Impala as they were attracting attention to her, and she soon realised she was not alone; moments later three young hyenas chased her up a Leadwood tree, which she sat up in for some time waiting for them to move off. They had heard the Impalas alarming and being opportunistic they – like Andrea – figured there was a leopard in the area and a possibility of food. They soon saw there was nothing there for them, and we sat and watched for a couple minutes before Andrea turned and said, we need to leave…
Whist driving, Andrea said, “I’m taking you to hopefully see Leopard cubs, make sure you have your cameras ready, because we only have one shot at this.” He was taking us to a den site of the Nhlanguleni Female, who has just successfully raised two female leopards to independence, the Finfoot Female being one of them. Andrea mentioned that these cubs are only about 6 weeks old, he also said that this is a gamble because they might not even be visible if the mother is not around, we made our way to where the female was presumed to be denning, and what happened next was extraordinary….
We were all trying to contain our excitement, nervous that the cubs would be timid, nervous that the mother might not be there in which case the cubs would be unlikely to venture out, just nervous that the sighting might not live up to its potential.
A tiny face peeked out from behind a boulder, investigating the vehicle noise. The cub looked at us for a couple seconds and walked up onto the boulder where it flopped down and just lay there staring at us. Shortly after another face appeared at the bottom of this boulder; a second cub! It too lay down and proceeded tugging on a branch, clawing and biting into it, still clumsy…
The four of us sat there in awe as we watched these two cubs just over a month old move about, not too wary of us being there. In their own time they moved off, and disappeared into their rock dwelling. We couldn’t see if the mother was there or not, as the long grass covering much of the rocky outcrop limited our view, but in case she wasn’t, and already having had an amazing albeit brief glimpse of the cubs, we decided to move off and leave them in peace.
This was one of my greatest moments spent here at Londolozi. I hope we can watch these cubs grow just as we did the previous litter. This is truly something special to see.
Latest reports are that the cubs are alive and well, but the mother has been moving them between rocky den sites in and around the Sand River, and sightings have been irregular. Hopefully it’s not too long before I get to see them again…
Yes we tracked her with Ross to a spot just upstream from the Singita/Londoz boundary last week. I believe she had moved the cubs back onto the Londolozi side as of a couple of days ago.