Pete Thorpe was extremely fortunate to be in the right place recently, watching the Makomsava female move dens. The new site is only about a hundred meters from the previous one, and from what we’ve seen, is slightly more secure. It has many small crevices and cracks for the cubs to hide away in, which are too small for the likes of a hyena or lion to put their head inside. This certainly leaves us feeling a lot more comfortable when we do leave the den as we know the cubs are safer.
The Makomsava female grooms her cub after it had just finished nursing. The licking of her cubs is not only used as a method to clean them, but her coarse tongue apparently also improves blood circulation.
One of the great things for us is that the new den is just above eye level from where we park the Land Rover to view from, which gives us incredible sightings of the leopards if the mother is there. The cubs we presume are roughly four to five weeks old now as their eyes are still very blue. They are also still very wobbly on their feet and are mostly seen moving around clumsily on top of their mother as they seek for a teat to suckle or play with one another on top of the boulder.
Cubs of this age can be very inquisitive. The mood and comfort level of the mother will play a big role in how quickly the cubs become habituated to the sound and presence of the vehicles. This Makomsava female is very comfortable with the movement of Land Rovers and it seems as though one of the the cubs is a lot more relaxed than the other.
From a very young age leopards follow their own natural instinct and are not taught how to hunt. They will often be seen playing with their mothers tail when they are young and any form of movement they will chase after. This may seem as a playful to the untrained eye but even when very young they are starting to practice techniques that will be vital to their survival later in life.
The eyes of leopard cubs will open when they are 6-10 days old, and they rely completely on their mother for milk. Cubs at this age do not have any control over their claws either, and only at about the two-to-three month mark will they start gaining control and be able to keep them retracted. Until then the mother and other cubs get scratched frequently.
At this point I think the cub was more inquisitive in the movement of the vehicles and trying to gauge whether we were a threat or not apposed to chasing its mothers tail.
The cub had been groomed by the mother for some time before it rolled over and wanted to play after suckling. Cubs are suckled for 14 weeks, by which time they weigh roughly three kilograms (give or take), but will start eating meat when they are just over 8 weeks old. They will still suckle as well as be led to kills at roughly 3 months old where they will then start getting weaned off milk and purely eat meat after that.
During the first three months of a cubs life the mother is with them for roughly half the time, although she may leave for periods as long as 36 hours when she is in search of food. The majority of the time the mother will move around in search of food in close proximity to the den. Mothers will seldom bring meat back to the den.
This scene for me just bought back so many memories from my childhood watching The Lion King. Although it is not a lion cub it looks like it’s staring off Pride Rock over the grasslands.
We are extremely happy to have another littler of leopard cubs on Londolozi. This is the Makomsava female’s first litter and research has shown that younger mothers leopards are more successful than older ones. Let’s all hope that this is the case with these two cubs and we will be able to view them for years to come.