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.