A decade ago I came to Londolozi with my husband for the 1st time. Our only previous African safari had been two nights in Tsavo in Kenya many years before. As our group drove into the reserve in our minibus on that trip, we were so excited to see a giraffe that we shot an entire roll of film! We loved the whole experience, though we didn’t see any cats. We vowed to return to Africa at some point for a longer stay.
I had long wanted to see a leopard in the wild. There is something about their combination of feline grace and elegance with power that captivates me. I did a fair bit of research on the area that would give us the best chance of seeing one. That plus a review in the travel section of my paper (plus the gorgeous photo on the front page of their brochure!) all pointed us to Londolozi.
We understood a leopard sighting can never be guaranteed in the wild, and arrived for our four-night stay with fingers firmly crossed. What we certainly didn’t expect was to see a leopard that afternoon on our very first game drive! AND close up from an open Land Rover with no one else around; a truly amazing experience. In one sense it was mission accomplished – but that implies an end, whereas actually this was a beginning.
That leopard was the Vomba female and was well known for her rich golden coat (which she inherited from her mother, the Sunset Bend Female). Little did I realise that she – along with her two young daughters (the Tutlwa and Mashab females) was founding quite a dynasty – one that I would be lucky enough to follow over the next decade.
The Vomba female was a leopard with an instantly recognisable rich golden coat. She spent much of her life around the Londolozi Camps.
But this is the Vomba female’s story, not mine.
Born at the end of 1997, this leopard birthed a number of cubs that didn’t reach independence. Her last cub was a male, who I saw in February 2013 when he was about eight months old. I watched enchanted as he played with his mother for well over an hour.
Tthe last time the Vomba young male was seen alive was five months later, and although the cub seemed to be coping and making some kills, it’s ultimately not known what happened to him after he gained independence (although most likely he dispersed into the greater Kruger Park). By then his half-sisters the Tutlwa and Mashaba females had already each brought a cub to independence. They have been successful at this, and fortunately for us most of the recent cubs in this lineage have been female, as have their own cubs, so have stayed within the greater Londolozi area. To be able to follow a lineage all the way down to great-grandcubs within one reserve is be a very unusual situation, if not unique.
The Tutlwa female was the Vomba female’s eldest daughter, born in 2006.
An enigmatic female not often encountered, this leopard lives to the north of the Sand River.
I saw this elusive leopard several times on my annual visits; once memorably when she was mating with the Gowrie male. We stayed with the pair until it was dark, at which point they moved off for a drink.
The Tutlwa female gave birth to the Nhlanguleni female in 2011 and successfully raised her (and her male sibling) to independence.
The Nhlanguleni female lost her first two litters, then birthed two female cubs in 2018. I saw them six months later, taking turns with their mother to feed from an impala kill on the ground. Alfie commented that she would hoist the kill soon, before it got dark. The words were scarcely out of his mouth when a large hyena came charging past our vehicle and headed like a guided missile to the kill (and cub). There was much growling from the mother to protect her cubs, who fortunately escaped up nearby trees.
These two female cubs are now independent (recently renamed as the Finfoot and Nkuwa females), so she has repeated her mother’s remarkable achievement. As reported recently on the blog, she now has two more young cubs.
Their grandmother the Tutlwa female was last seen alive in 2016, being attacked by the Tsalala pride near Granite camp.
The Mashaba female is the Tutlwa female’s younger sister, born in 2008. For a while she was surely Londolozi’s most viewed leopard.
From her first litter, one cub survived – the Nkoveni female, born in 2012. I think I may have actually seen her being conceived, as I watched her mother mating with the Marthly male around three months prior; exactly the length of a leopard gestation!
A young female that lives to the east and south of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
The Nkoveni female lost her first two litters but a female cub survived from her third, in March 2018.
Five months later I was lucky enough to spend several hours with mother and cub, while they relaxed and played.
Last year I saw the cub again, newly independent and flourishing. She is now called the Plaque Rock female. She was featured in an astonishing blog recently showing her catching a monkey in mid-air!
The Mashaba female has more recently been incredibly unlucky in losing whole litters – I believe she has lost all her cubs in the last four consecutive years. Her last success came three years after the Nkoveni female, when she had two cubs denned in front of Founders Camp.
The female survived to become the Ximungwe female. She has had her own litter of two, of which the female was killed by the Tortoise Pan male.
The male cub fortunately escaped, and is now over a year old. I saw him last last September.
It was my 10th visit to Londolozi and on this trip I saw the great grandson and great granddaughter of my first ever wild leopard. No wonder I’m obsessed!