Right in the heart of the northern parts of the reserve lies a very special place. This place is called Marthly Pools and to some a game drive is incomplete without some time spent in this magical spot. The area is found on one of the meandering bends of the Manyelethi River where, because of the underlying bed rock, the water of this perennial river does not soak all the way underground. This area is also characterised by a ridge of granite koppies (rocky outcrops) that form a natural amphitheatre around the pools which certainly adds to the allure of the place. If you climb to the top of these koppies there are some breathtaking views of the reserve and many an evening drink has been enjoyed at these spots as the past days’ events and sightings are reflected upon.
On one evening a few days back we were doing just that when I quickly realised that we were being watched. In the middle of a conversation my eyes floated towards a patch of grass on top of the koppie and it took me a second to realise that I was suddenly in a staring competition with a leopard. We all stopped talking and focussed our attention on the leopard and as soon as she realised that she had been seen she slunk off. Typically, leopards will not approach a group of people because, like with most animals, they inherently fear people and would rather choose to avoid the conflict. What was interesting about this particular leopard though was that she had approached us; she would have seen and heard us from the base of the koppie and yet she still chose to walk up. We quickly realised that this could mean only one thing and that was that she must have cubs somewhere close by.
Not wanting to get in the way of a leopard and her cubs, as well as the fact that the sun had just set, we gathered our things and walked back down to the vehicle with cursory glances back to see where the leopard had gone. The conversation quickly turned to which female this could be (they’re a lot harder to ID in the half light than you would think) and where the cubs could be hidden. Marthy Pools lies in the middle of the Makomsava Female’s territory and combined with the knowledge that she was lactating the last time she was seen we deduced that it must have been her.
The next day James Tyrrell and a few others returned to the area to see if they could discover where the den was. The area is very rocky and leopards in the past have made the most of this by stashing cubs in dark cracks and crevices on these koppies. After carefully scanning the area James looked up towards the top where there was a prominent crack in the main boulder and his eyes were attracted to a brief movement in the dark. Through his binoculars he could just make out the bright blue eyes of two leopard cubs! This was the first time anyone had laid eyes on cubs of the Makomsava female as this was her first litter.
Counting the days from when she was last seen looking pregnant to the day James discovered the den we estimated the cubs to be no older than 2 weeks. This is an incredibly vulnerable time for the cubs; their eyes would have only just opened a few days prior and their movement would be limited. Due to the den site being at the top of the koppie we can easily check on it without impacting the safety of the cubs and so now we wait.
Realistically, we will probably only start to get good views of them out in the open when they are around 4-6 weeks old but that doesn’t stop us from sitting at the base off the koppie straining our eyes to try and make out any movement in the dark. The Makomsava female has been seen at the den on one occasion and she really has chosen a good spot because even she can hide from view amongst the boulders.
A lot of people will be familiar with the Nanga female who has been around the north of Londolozi for 11 years old now and is the mother of the Makomsava female which makes the discovery even more exciting as we wait to follow the fate of her progeny with great interest. Luckily, the male leopard dynamics in that area are fairly stable at the moment with the Flat Rock Male, who is most likely the father of the cubs, still dominant which reduces the threat of other male leopards moving through and endangering the cubs.
We can only sit tight and continue to stare towards the den as we wait for the cubs to emerge and evening sundowners at the top will have to take a back seat for now which is no problem because the prospect of new leopard cubs will keep us more than occupied. We are holding thumbs and will be sure to keep you updated!