For the first time in a long time I got a taste of what it is like to spend similar time, that John Varty and Elmon Mhlongo did, with the Mother Leopard. It took hours of patience and perseverance with the Mother Leopard in order for that leopard to allow them into a window of her life. Respect is the only word that comes to mind when I think about all that John and Elmon did.
The original viewable leopard of Londolozi, if not Africa. In 1979 this leopard appeared as if by magic, allowing vehicles to view her.
This situation is different as this particular female is already relaxed around vehicles. Any recent guests who have had the privilege of tracking and finding the Ximungwe Female will know that this has proven almost impossible. After spending almost 8 hours with her on this particular day I finally understood why.
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
Here is some background to this female…
Daughter of the Mashaba female, the Ximungwe female is currently raising her second litter after having raised the Ximungwe young male to independence. We view this leopard in the central parts of Londolozi and prior to the birth of this litter, we used to see her quite regularly. She currently has one cub that is estimated to be around three months old. We noticed similar behaviour to this once before when she lost her one cub in her previous litter. For almost three months after the incident with her cub, we would hardly see her.
With the best tracking team in the world this female has managed to be a nemesis to the whole team. We found her early one morning by following the sound of squirrels alarming. Ray and I were so busy looking at which way the squirrel was looking we almost missed the leopard in the road. After many guides and trackers had been trying to find this female for a few days we decided to stick with her. She scent marked along the road, cutting off every now and again to smell and then back to the road, typical behaviour of any leopard. Then her behaviour changed as she began actively searching and checking every bush, this involved her crossing the airstrip twice.
The back and forth began. She started heading down to a nearby pan, I presumed to drink. As she got to the pan she turned away to rest in the shade, but soon she was up again. FINALLY she lay in the road. We sat for hours with her, then eventually followed her again as she took obscured routes through the reserve. This proved to be difficult for us as we tried to keep up with her and at last she headed straight towards where we presumed she had been keeping the cub. Just before getting there, she stopped and rested in the shade for at least three hours. We waited… nothing but a few more up and down movements in the same block. It wasn’t until she started to show interest in a herd of impala in the thicket that we decided to leave her. We did not want to interfere with her chance of a meal especially considering she is raising a cub.
After an hour and a half break we went back out. GONE. She stumped us all again with tracks heading in many directions which wasn’t surprising after watching her movements that morning. This leopard continues to be difficult to track. We bumped into her by taking a ” lottery ticket drive” as a I called it through a thick block. My guest spotted her and it wasn’t long before she led us back towards where we thought the cub was. Again we were wrong, she walked straight past and into thicker block, simply scent marking.
It was an interesting learning curve for me in particular. This is something I tell myself everyday, “there is so little we actually know about the behaviour of these animals”. Everything I predicted, she did the opposite of. She surprised us with completely out of the normal behaviour. Why is she such an enigma as of late when she was relaxed with her previous litter? What is the reason for diverted routes while scent marking? AND WHERE IS SHE KEEPING THE CUB? Maybe it is something we will never get the answers too.
Having questions and trying to solve them are some of the best parts of being in nature. It is a constant ever changing environment that keeps you wondering and educates you each time.