Speechless. That was the word that leaped to mind.
When Managing Director Chris Kane-Berman reported a leopard with a 3-4 month old cub on a kill a couple of kilometres west of camp, it made no sense.
No female currently with a cub should be found in that part of the reserve. The Nhlanguleni female – who is territorial there – we saw was pregnant towards the start of Lockdown (5 months ago), then future sightings of her (which admittedly have been few and far between) seemed to indicate she had lost the litter. She had no visible signs of suckle marks, so we presumed that like many leopard cubs here, her latest had been killed by a rival predator.
How wrong we realised we were when we saw the photos:
Initially skittish she spent a lot of time in the Sand River, now relaxed she makes up the majority of leopard viewing west of camp.
It’s crazy to think think that this little cub has been wandering around on Londolozi for months and we’ve been none the wiser. Granted, we’ve seen its mother probably fewer than seven times in the last six months and she inhabits one of the trickiest areas of Londolozi to follow a leopard in, but even so we would like to think we had some kind of idea that it existed.
We have been seeing an inordinate number of female leopard tracks going up and down in one specific section of the Sand River out to the west, which when we think about it now was probably highly indicative of a den. The possibility was certainly discussed that just maybe the Nhlanguleni female had a litter we didn’t know of, but it wasn’t taken too seriously, especially with the discovery of the Piccadilly cub, then the Makomsava litter, and so much else going on across Londolozi. Maybe we should have invested a bit more time into the search.
In an reserve in which we like to think we know what the various leopards are up to, I love the fact that we can still get an absolute bombshell dropped on us like this.
From these photos alone, it looks to me like the cub is a male, but I stand to be corrected. Its size given its apparent age, and its head size to body size ratio just strike me as being slightly greater than a female’s would be.
Maybe there are two cubs, and the other is just shy. Maybe even three! It’s happened before with the Nhlanguleni female.
This is 2020 after all. Anything’s possible!