Growing up is tough. Growing up as a young leopard in the wild African bush is extremely tough! Each and every day is a battle for survival and if a leopard is to succeed in this unforgiving wilderness it would do well to learn quickly. Thankfully though, mother leopards are great teachers and none more so than the Ximungwe female. One morning Sean Zeederberg and I decided to spend a bit of time with the Ximungwe female as she put her little cub through her paces and we experienced a few lessons we would never forget.
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
A few days before the morning in question, the Ximungwe female had killed an impala and stashed it in a tree. Fast forward a few days and the kill was nearly finished and both leopards were lazing in the tree canopy. With the temperature rising steadily and surrounding hyenas losing interest in the kill, Sean and I decided to stick with the pair of leopards and see if we could witness a motherly masterclass in action.
Lesson #1: Hydration is Key
As we speculated about what the two leopards would do, the Ximungwe female descended the tree and started walking through the long grass towards the road. Not far behind bounded her excited cub. Once on the road, the pair strolled alongside each other for a moment before cutting into the ticket. Sean and I clicked at the same time: they were heading straight for a nearby pool of water – most likely for a drink. As the pair approached the waterhole they slowed their pace, scanning for danger. Once satisfied, they closed in on the pool and began to drink.
A few minutes later the two leopards moved away from the waterhole back towards the kill. The young cub seemed to be brimming with confidence after completing its first lesson of the day with flying colours. The lesson – make sure to stay hydrated and be safe while doing so.
Lesson #2: Proceed with Caution
While the Ximungwe female was having a drink, two opportunistic vultures had swooped in to feed on the kill. This commotion reawakened the curiosity of the hungry hyenas and they stood expectantly at the base of the tall Marula tree. The Ximungwe female and her cub were just returning to the scene when the Ximungwe female realized that her hard-earned kill was being devoured by vultures. She sprinted past the hyenas and up the tree to chase away the expedient vultures. In the heat of the moment, she left her cub lagging behind and only realized her mistake when the hyenas shifted their gaze towards the oblivious cub.
The hyena locked eyes on the cub and made a beeline in the direction of the youngster. In an instant, the Ximungwe female rushed down the tree and gave chase. Thankfully she caught up in time and violently attacked the hyena. The hyena beat a hasty retreat and the cub escaped almost certain death thanks to the Ximungwe female’s lighting fast reactions.
Sean and I breathed a collective sigh of relief. The takeaway from this close encounter – always proceed with caution.
Lesson #3: Eyes on the Prize
Despite its near-death experience, the little leopard was not out of the woods just yet. There were other hyenas scattered all around the tree and the cub had to refocus and concentrate on making it to the safety of the tall Marula tree. We sat and watched as the Ximungwe female returned from her high-speed hyena vanquishing and guided her little one towards the tree. The Ximungwe female was the first to climb up, followed closely behind by her young protégé.
The final lesson of the day was now complete – keep focused on the task at hand.
Satisfied that the mother and cub had successfully completed their mission for the morning, Sean and I left the pair to relax high in the branches of the big Marula tree. The time spent with the Ximungwe female and her little one revealed to us just how difficult it is to raise a young one in the wild and we gained a new appreciation for this amazing female leopard and her inspiring motherly instincts.