It is just days since we discovered the den in which the Makomsava female was hiding her cubs. The view was tricky, to say the least. If the mother was there, you may see the tops of her ears if you’re lucky. This did not keep us from going back to check on the den.
The only surviving cub of the Nanga female, currently territorial north of Marthly.
The potential thrill of seeing young leopard cubs kept our hopes up. We also knew that since they were very young, the mother would need to nurse the cubs on a daily basis, giving us a great starting point from which to find a leopard!
Upon arrival at the den on this particular day, the scene looked like any other. The rocks looked quiet, the baboons were playing in the river behind and the birds chirped away as usual. Little did we know what we were about to witness.
Another vehicle was waiting at the base of the koppie ahead of us. We rolled up next to them, expecting the normal morning pleasantries. Our hearts skipped a beat when we heard the news: the mother had just carried one cub down the hill and into another rocky outcrop nearby. Knowing that there was a second cub left in the den, our excitement levels sky-rocketed. Was she about to return to fetch the second one?
The calls of baboons playing in the trees below us echoed between the boulders.
We knew that if the leopard was returning, she would have to avoid being seen by them. Baboons have killed leopards in the past, and a leopard cub would be at huge risk. It took a good 30 minutes before a glimpse of movement caught our eye on the hillside. It was the mother. She had come for the second cub!
We sat speechless as we watched her emerge from the shadows of the den with a tiny cub dangling from her mouth. She stepped carefully down the koppie and set a straight line towards where she had left the first cub hidden. There was one gap she needed to cross, so we set ourselves up for that view…
Seeing a leopard carrying a cub is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The whole sighting lasted less than five minutes, but the excitement that it generated within us is indescribable.
Interestingly, the Makomsava female’s mother – the Nanga female – raised several litters of cubs within metres of the den that is now being used. It is extremely well hidden, thus the cubs should be safe from threats such as lion or hyena. This does also mean that it is very difficult for us to see anything of them at all. However, we’ve certainly seen more than enough for now…