We had set out of camp slightly later than usual, the morning rays just high enough to bathe Londolozi in the beautiful morning light that this time of year is famous for. Sean Zeederberg had seen tracks of a female leopard walking straight down a road pretty close to camp. Our plan for the morning was to try and look for a leopard, so this was a good first lead. Tracker Shadrack and I hopped off the vehicle and started to following the tracks down the road.
We soon came to realise that there wasn’t just one leopard that had walked along the road. There was a second pair of tracks slightly smaller than the female’s tracks. We both paused momentarily realising exactly what this meant. We simultaneously looked up at each other smiling – it had to be the Ximungwe Female Leopard and her cub! She had been moving around this exact area very frequently. Having a young male cub of roughly 6 months old at the time can prove fairly challenging as she not only has to feed herself but her cub as well.
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
The tracks cut off the road on a prominent game path (a well-worn trail). We followed for a further 100m or so until we saw the cub dash into a shrub not too far away from us. On closer inspection, we saw both of them staring straight at us. We slowly backtracked until we were out of sight and very excitedly trotted our way back to the vehicle where the guests were patiently awaiting our arrival with the hope of some good news.
We drove the vehicle into the clearing to find them both reunited and walking through the golden grass. They both settled up at the base of a termite mound nearby where the cub started playfully jumping on the mother and chasing her tail. The backlit sun was creating a breathtaking scene. They continued playing and chasing each other for a few minutes and then started moving again. We repositioned the vehicle and waited to see what their next move was going to be. The mother then stopped to rest only prompting the cub to initiate the fun again. We watched the two play for well over an hour.
During these playful bouts, it is all a learning curve for the young cub. What we interpret as an incredible interaction was something that could be the difference between life and death later on in life when the cub becomes independent. Essentially these bouts are teaching the cub various methods of defence through play. They can seem pretty rough with one another which is very necessary, as when the real-time comes it is not going to be gentle. We watched in awe as the cub wrestled and attacked his mother. It all started as he ran 20m away, stopped, and proceeded to stalk his mother, carefully placing each foot to limit the sound, pause, then bound out of the grass and launch onto the mother. It was not all about defence and learning how to fight but also how to stalk in silence. The female would look in the other direction as if she had no clue the cub was stalking her and at the last minute spin around and respond to the cub’s movements.
We watched this as if it were on repeat. For well over ten times the cub move away and started to stalk again. This was until the two grew tired and settled down in the long grass where we left them. It’s sightings like these that never get old and always entertain us. It is truly going to be fascinating to watch this young cub grow and develop over the coming months until hopefully, we will see him putting these techniques to good use.