One evening on our way back to camp, we came across the Ximungwe female leopard. She was making her way into an area that we knew she had been making use of not too long ago to den her cub. We hadn’t seen the cub for a while, and knowing that her tracks from the evening would be reasonably fresh, we figured it gave us a great starting point for the morning and we were excited to head straight there first thing the next day.
On our way out before sunrise, we came across a white rhino resting in a dry river bed. We sat for a few minutes and watched, appreciating the lovely stillness of the morning. Suddenly, Tracker Richard Mthabine turned to me and told me to drive off into the bush, pointing in the direction from which he had just heard the sounds of a pair of mating leopards – not too far from where we had stopped.
Shortly afterwards, and with an impressive spot by my guest we found a female leopard. It was the Ximungwe female! We quickly scanned around, expecting to find her with a male, but we had no luck. We soon realised that she was alone.
Next thing, she started to make soft chuffing sounds, exactly the sound a mother leopard does when calling her cubs. Could this be the moment we had been waiting for? Before we knew it, the cub audibly responded! Our anticipation rose and we started searching high and low for any signs of her cub. After waiting for quite a while, Tracker Rich managed to spot a tiny figure staring right at us through the canopy of a thorn tree. At last!
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
She called her cub for a good few more minutes, urging it to climb down from the tree. Her patience wore thin and she eventually climbed up into the tree, grabbed the cub in her mouth and dragged it out and back down – something I honestly never thought I would ever get to see.
We sat there for a while longer and could hear the mating pair of leopards nearby that Rich had pointed out earlier, as well as a pack of wild dogs that were also not too far away (this place is unbelievable!). Both of these other sounds represented potential threats to the safety of the cub. This explained her eagerness in wanting to get the cub out of the tree so she could move it to a safer place.
We quickly looped around to the road, just in time to have her walk right in front of the vehicle carrying her cub in her mouth – something I have only ever dreamt of seeing.
Being a ranger provides me with so many opportunities to see the most amazing sightings. To be able to be out in the bush every day is something very special. There are so many times that I find myself seeing things that are so incredible that I am left speechless. Moments that will be treasured in my memory bank forever – this morning was one of them.