Londolozi has been known for its leopard viewing and many people travel great distances to visit us with the high hopes of seeing amazing leopard sightings. It is no secret that the leopard viewing at Londolozi is phenomenal and with some of the highest leopard densities in the world, it forms a huge part of our DNA but these leopards were not always this way.
Many years ago, in 1979 John Varty and Elmon Mlhongo started a journey that would mould the way we look at leopards forever. They began spending time with a female leopard that seemed to tolerate their presence, by allowing them into her life John and Elmon spent the next 12 years documenting her daily activities and the intricacies of her life. Through time and exposure to the human presence, not associated with danger nor food, her demeanour relaxed, allowing John and Elmon to get footage of a leopard’s life that had never been seen before.
The original viewable leopard of Londolozi, if not Africa. In 1979 this leopard appeared as if by magic, allowing vehicles to view her.
The careful and calculated approach that they took towards the mother leopard eventually paid off as she allowed them to view her cubs for the first time, affirming the trust she had in them. This approach towards leopards has been passed down the generations of trackers and guides that have been fortunate enough to call Londolozi their home, and lived and worked with John and Elmon in person. Still practised today throughout the industry and has led to beautiful habituated leopard viewing throughout South Africa. Although with a lot greater ease, thanks to John and Elmon’s previous exploits, this practice has been a driving force with the latest cub that the Ximunguwe Female is currently raising.
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
Around nine months old it has taken careful time and consideration towards this cub and his mother to now eventually see them both more frequently. We have been tracking and viewing the Ximunguwe Female leopard and her cub for quite a while now but for Dorence and I, it was one morning in particular that all the hours of allowing the cub to get used to vehicles, seriously paid off.
When looking back on a previous game drive, we knew that tracking and finding the Ximunguwe Female that morning was going to be tricky as she had been a lot more elusive now that she was raising another cub. So much so, earning the nickname “Xipoko” amongst the ranging and tracking team meaning “ghost”. We knew she would be somewhere around the Maxabene Riverbed as she had been leaving her cub in drainage lines that flow towards it for the past couple of months. Knowing leopard mother’s behaviour she would certainly be returning to fetch the cub at some point, as she had been seen by herself the afternoon prior.
Making the most of our home ground advantage we set off in search of what we knew would be something very special for all of us to see. After working around all these drainage lines for the majority of the morning with no luck, we eventually heard a kudu alarm calling not too far from where we were. Kudu alarm calls are a great sign, and sure enough, there was the Ximunguwe female walking down the road. A great sense of achievement flooded the car, something you often feel when you persist with your plan and don’t give up.
Soon after we found her, we noticed that she gave off a gentle contact call, which she increased in frequency as we approached a nearby thicket. And not 5 minutes later we were graced with this bundle of fur and joy rushing out to greet her. It was her cub! The greeting between the Ximunguwe female and her cub was something to behold as you could see how much it meant to both of them to finally be back in each other’s presence.
While watching the greeting, I immediately turned to Dorence and said “something seems different”, from previous encounters with this cub we had never seen it this relaxed. We could tell from its general behaviour that it had eased towards the vehicle and was not worried about our presence at all. They continued playing and reestablishing their mother and cub bond for the next hour or so. This was a special sighting as I could finally see first-hand that the sensitive approach we take as a team towards these cubs was finally paying off as they decided to allow us into their secretive life for a brief moment.
While watching them move off into the ticket, I couldn’t help but think what a special place Londolozi is and how fortunate we are to have had such legends pioneer the way we view these amazing animals today.
Hi Patrick you surely work in a paradise filled with illusive leopards. Londolozi is a magnificent place and world renowned for its leopards and luxury safaris. The Ximungwe female and her cub are both so special. The cub with the spec in his left eye makes him even more special. He is going to be one stunning male leopard and it looks as if he is getting g used the Land Rovers around him. J.V. and Elmon did fantastic tracking and filming with the mother leopard.
Patrick, Love the story and it sure is true. The experience I had with Leopards and multiple cubs or Mothers with one cub has never left me. By following the daily blog I remind myself each day the wonderful experience etched forever in my memory. A life changing time. Sounds like it just keeps getting better. You and the great team before you have built a home these animals feel comfortable in and trust for safety from the unknown. If I were a Leopard I would pack up the family and move to Londolozi too. Hope to be back soon.
I watched John Varty’s documentaires a few years ago. Brilliant, especially that one about Mother leopard. I am so glad the tradition passed on and you are able to keep up with the family tree. It must be such a special feeling to see the progeny and the tender behaviour between mother and cubs. As John Varty and Elmon Mhlongo did, it must be a real excitement to follow their progress… a special tribute today!
Great pictures of the mother leopard and the Ximungwe Female and her gorgeous cub.
It is really fantastic that the leopards of Londolozi are so relaxed around vehicles and allow us into their lives.
What a fantastic viewing and story. It truly takes time for animals to adapt to human presence. Patience wins the day!
Lovely photos of the mom and son! How old is he now? Any idea of who is the father?
The privilege and honor of seeing relaxed leopards in the wild, and especially cubs, cannot be overstated. It is SO special and wonderful!
What a nice blog Patrick. It shows that if you respect wildlife they repay you with respect. Just the fact of tracking them and staying your distance, not interfering with their activities, moves them to trust you. Thanks for sharing with us – very enjoyable.
Great story Patrick! The team of JV and Elmon certainly paved the way to the exceptional viewing of leopards in Londolozi as well as teaching other private reserves how to behave around these elusive and non-trusting big cats. Putting the animal first and not your desire for ticking off another seen mammal, bird, amphibian, etc. should be the primary focus in game viewing. This is especially true for leopards who appear to be much more secretive and protective of their cubs than say a lioness who births her cubs, keeps them hidden for several weeks before introducing them to the pride. It’s much more social. We know leopards are solitary, so to spend time with even one is truly a priceless moment. Keep up the good energy you exude.
Legends indeed Patrick ! We were lucky to be guests in the very early days at Londolozi with Dave at the helm. Although I have sent a photo of the leopard we were fortunate to see, to date no one has been able to identify her/him… (to be honest it was an awful shot!)….I’m sure it must of been the mother as the dates tie in so well. Whoever it was it was magical, as at that time it was a very rare thing to enjoy the presence of these beautiful cats.
Great blog Patrick, and you are so right that the wonderful leopard experiences we have today were begun by JV and Elmon and their extraordinary patience in establishing that initial bond with the Mother Leopard. Now we have the benefit of the foundation they laid for us all to view, with almost 20 leopards in the current Londolozi environment. For us all to be able to view these elusive creatures/predators up close and personal is truly amazing! And with the guide and trackers continuing this approach to habituating all these wild animals to the presence of us is so very much appreciated. Thanks you again for reminding us of the pioneering work done by JV and Elmon!
So, so jealous of that type of sighting , for many safari regulars – that would be a once in a lifetime viewing opportunity
This blog is a real help as we try to convey to our friends how the team is able to approach the leopards. They are always awestruck by our photos.
What a great story! I can’t wait to visit Londolozi to hopefully experience a marvellous moment like this. Thank you for the story and the wonderful photos.