Ask Ranger Tayla Brown and Tracker Freddy Ngobeni; they’ve turned the area inside out looking for these elusive leopards.
Summer is here and with it have come all the things that make finding very small leopards difficult; long grass, thick bush and road surfaces baked to concrete by the sun, necessitating superhuman eyesight (enter Freddy) to even think of spotting a track.
Yet find multiple tracks Freddy and Tayla did, in and around the Manyelethi River in a few different spots, quite far north of where the Makomsava female was previously keeping her litter.
To be honest, we don’t even know if both cubs are still alive. The last time they were seen they were found in a small bank of rocks on the edge of the Manyelethi, but they were only viewed there for a couple of days (although we believed they had been kept there for a couple of weeks before) until they were moved. Since then they have not been seen for over two weeks.
Freddy and Tayla have been working the area extensively with their current guests, and on a number of occasions have been within a whisker of finding the leopards; fresh tracks of the mother and at least one cub led them into a thick block near the Leadwood forest, then squirrels started alarming and then a kudu started barking, sure signs that the leopards were close. But then nothing. Silence. Only the cicadas buzzing in the drowsy late morning heat.
Heading back there later that afternoon, tracks of a cub were clearly visible imprinted in the sand on top of Tayla’s track! The leopards had walked out behind the ranger/tracker duo just after they had moved off.
The cub/s is/are old enough to be taken to kills now. They’re over three months, which also means that proper, stable dens become less used by the mother. These days it will be more of a case of stashing the cubs in some convenient orifice like a hollow log or a hole in a termite mound until she’s back from hunting. Then she’ll move them again and the search begins once more.
It’s frustrating knowing that at least one cub is out there yet eluding us, but if Tayla and Freddy keep at it like they have for a week (they’ve found the mother on a couple of occasions, but not the cub), we should hopefully know soon.
First prize is obviously both cubs alive and well, but right now we’ll settle for just a glimpse of only one…