Watching a leopard grow from weeks of age to independence is truly special.
I suppose it could be compared with watching your child grow, albeit with no actual contact or parenting…
Experiencing heart-wrenching moments such as a hyena sniffing about the den or the first time the cub is introduced to meat are just some of the highs and lows to which we may be exposed. In the case of the Ximungwe female, she had her first litter (two cubs) in mid-October 2018. I remember watching in horror as the Inyathini male arrived out of nowhere at the site where the cubs were being kept. The cubs dashed for cover as the male came in sniffing about where the cubs had been playing while the mother sat aside, acting submissively. Luckily he moved on as quickly as he arrived, no leopards injured.
It was about five months later that the Tortoise Pan male tragically but instinctively killed one of the Ximungwe female’s two cubs one morning in a case of infanticide. As sad as this was to witness, we were all thrilled to watch the remaining cub escape the danger and make it to today, nearing independence. Now bigger than his mother, he is almost definitely going to leave her watch soon, growing into a healthy young male leopard. This is where the fun begins…
Now that the young male is confident to wander around alone, sometimes being left for two to three days at at time, he is really starting to explore the world around him. Every tree, termite mound, shrub, bird – anything that moves close by becomes a target of interest for him. This is typical of leopards his age. It is a glorious time to be watching him develop!
At this stage the youngster is bigger than his mother, but has all the attributes of a cub, still curious as ever and just wanting to play. We recently witnessed him tackle and tumble with a small bush repeatedly about five times in a row!
Days before he was seen climbing into a very small dead tree and attempting to lie on its only horizontal branch. We watched in hysterics as the branch snapped and both him and the piece of wood fell to the ground. Hardly anything to be concerned about, other than a hilarious moment of youthful behaviour gone wrong.
We look forward to watching the antics of the Ximungwe young male over the coming months as he becomes more independent and explores the world further. Just a few days ago he was seen stalking an adult male waterbuck (way out of his prey range) along the banks of the Sand River. What else is he going to get up to…?