Many guests have asked me what do leopard cubs do when their mother leaves them at their den site? The mother leopard, in this case the Picadilly female will leave her young cub in a secure place with lots of escape routes in case a predator lurks through this den site. They will choose a place that has thick vegetation, lots of trees and/or rocks which provide hiding places for the cub to move within. The Picadilly female has been seen leaving her cub a few times around the rocky outcrops in the Northern part of Londolozi with a few boulders scattered near a drainage line and densely vegtated trees in which the cub can escape to if threatened. With her cub being almost a year old she is somewhat more independent and more cable of sensing and fleeing danger nearby.
Leopard cubs are left for a few hours and sometimes days while their mother goes out to hunt or to patrol her territory to keep other females leopards at bay and importantly providing food for themselves to sustain them as well as to feed their cubs. By leaving their cubs behind it helps them successfully hunt without the disturbance of the inexperienced cub or to avoid conflict as they move through their territory there is a high chance they will encounter danger. Often while hunting leopards are trailed by an opportunistic hyena hoping to steal a quick meal before the leopard has the opportunity to hoist the kill in the safety of over hanging branches. This holds a great risk then too as hyenas aren’t fussy eaters and unfortunately would not miss the easy meal of a young inexperienced unsuspecting leopard cub.
But what does the cub do while she waits for her mother to return?
One morning we were in search of a leopard in the northern parts of Londolozi and we spotted the Picadilly young female lying up on a boulder high up on a rocky outcrop. Little did we know that the question of what do they do was about to be answered…
We watched her posed perfectly in the morning light but soon we heard the chitter of a business of dwarf mongoose. As we heard it we saw the Picadilly young female perk her ears forward in response to the mongoose while staring motionless in their direction.
Then instantly she lowered her body into a stalking profile with her back legs ready to propel her forward at any moment. As cubs start to get older they start to explore further away from the den or from where their mother left them – a natural curiosity that comes with the eve growing independence. It is vital for them to do this so that they can develop their skills of becoming a solitary apex predator. Young cubs often practice being stealthy on smaller animals like dwarf mongoose, tree squirrels and ground birds like crested francolins. This is usually why the smaller animals like squirrels will alarm when they see a leopard because of being the prey when they are younger and learning.
The dwarf mongoose were oblivious to the danger hiding in the cover of grass above them. Often on cooler mornings the mongoose will lie on rocks or termite mounds in the sun to warm themselves up before heading out to forage for the day.
Waiting patiently above them lay the Picadilly young female only moving when the mongoose looked away or when some went into thicker grass cover. Edging ever closer without a sound as she managed to get into thick grass cover too.
Hidden in the grass she disappeared and so did the dwarf mongoose.
Even though she was unsuccessful in catching one she was successful in further developing the vital skills needed to be a stealthy hunter.