A grey, cloudy morning hangs over Londolozi. The dark skies threaten but the rain holds off for the moment. It’s been some time since we’ve seen the Nkoveni Female and her two cubs. Rob Hlatshwayo and I decide it’s worth having a look around her usual haunt. It’s a tough start and we can find no sign of her anywhere.
“Let’s have one last look along this drainage line,” I tell my guests,
“She often uses this drainage to stash her cubs while she is out hunting.”
It’s our last-ditch attempt before we would call off the search and move on to look for something else. Tracker Rob Hlatshwyo’s eyes bore a hole into the hard surface of the road in search of tracks as I scan left and right, determined to find even the barest hint of this leopard.
And then that magical moment; I hear a gasp and a quiet…
“Is that her?”
One of our guests miraculously spots her draped over a branch far in the distance. Laying just below the canopy line of a tree was the exact female we’ve been searching for. As we approach closer we notice the remains of a young impala hanging from a nearby branch.
A young female that lives to the east and south of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
But where are the cubs? After viewing her for some time, looking as comfortable as I’ve ever seen a leopard in a tree, we decide to try and find the little ones. We backed out of the tight viewing spot and drive back towards the road. I heard a chuckle from Rob as he points towards a Torchwood tree right at the point in the road where we turned off when we saw the female; there, lying on a perfectly horizontal branch out in the open for all the world to see, was perched one of the cubs.
And then, the icing on an already magnificent cake; we turn to see the mother had moved from her perch. We could see something else moving though, the kill seemed to be swaying. Was this from the other cub?
Yes, there the other one was. Feeding on the kill while the mother watched from a higher perch.
We watched as it fed, the most adorable feeding I have ever witnessed. The cub feeding was too much; the kill’s centre of balance shifted and it began to slip from the branch! The cub paid no heed and fed on with reckless abandon. At the last the mother caught the movement and sprang into action, circling around the trunk just as the kill began to slide off the branch and clawed at it to bring it to her jaws before the carcass could fall to the hyena waiting below.
We all chuckled as the cub still held on to its end of the meal and played havoc with the mother’s rescue attempt. But she was successful in the end, carrying it up to a safer branch.
The cub, vastly unimpressed with this new development, began its somewhat precarious climb up to the mother to try and steal a few more mouthfuls. The mother growled a warning hoping to halt the cub’s advances. Emboldened by its earlier feeding frenzy, the cub leaped brashly onto the kill as the mother fed. This was the final straw and the mother snapped at the cub, growling savagely.
This time the reprimand was understood in full and the cub quietly curled up on the branch next to the mother, only a quiet hiss and a snarl to declare its dissatisfaction at the injustice of it all.
Seeing leopard cubs is always magical, but after this particular morning’s events we were lucky to witness, it was unanimous amongst the vehicle that it had been an exceptional sighting. To be rewarded with such excitement after a long difficult tracking mission made it so much more special. To warm our spirits and digest what we had just seen we left the mother still feeding and settled over a warm cup of coffee next to the Sand River.