At Londolozi we are incredibly fortunate to have a traversing area of around 15000 hectares. Within this incredible wilderness lies many different habitats; wide-open savanna, mixed woodland with undulating hills, open crests dotted with marula trees, elevated rocky outcrops, as well as a densely foliated riparian environment that meanders its way right through the heart of Londolozi. The diversity in the flora supports a remarkable diversity in fauna. If you ask any ranger or tracker, each will give you a different answer as to which is their favourite area to explore, and the beauty of the reserve lies in the abundance of choice that lies in front of us each day.
My favourite area to explore (at least for now) is the deep southeastern stretches of Londolozi. It is an area explored less than others simply given the geographic distance of it from camp. The Sand River forms a natural border on the eastern side of the reserve which has areas with steep banks and spectacular views of the riverbed. Apart from the topography of the area, there is another reason why tracker Tshepo Dzemba and myself love to explore this stretch of the reserve.
On the last morning of a guest’s five-night safari, we were afforded the luxury of exploring the reserve without the intention of finding a specific species of animal as all the guest’s special interests had already been seen. This meant we were able to go for the high-risk, high reward option. Tshepo and I needn’t even have a conversation about it, we were already on the same page. Off we set for the deep southeast.
As we passed a small waterhole Tshepo signaled me to stop! He jumped off the vehicle with purpose and immediately I knew he’d found fresh leopard tracks! We parked our guests in the shade of a big marula tree before Tshepo and I started to follow the tracks. After no more than 300m the tracks led us directly to a set of boulders covered in dense vegetation. I was scanning the area while Tshepo continued to look for clues in the sand. The clues he found were small but significant. They were the tracks of two small leopard cubs that their mother had clearly come to collect from the boulders.
After returning to the vehicle and the guests we came around the next corner and up in the tree we saw them; mother and two cubs with the remains of a kudu calf. It is a sight I will never forget. A leopard in a tree is special enough but with her two small cubs – now that’s difficult to beat. However, one must never underestimate the surprises the bush has in store.
This female is a success story all in herself, being born as a single cub to the Dudley Riverbank female in early 2012.
We had been watching the cubs playing in the tree while their mother was fast asleep. This continued for about 15 minutes before I noticed some more spots lying in a nearby thicket. All of a sudden it got up and walked towards us. Simply based on the size we knew it was a male leopard and as he emerged from the thicket we could see it was the Nweti Male.
We were expecting him to rush up the tree and steal the kudu kill from the Ndzanzeni Female but instead, he started making a low-pitched contact call, similar to that normally only seen when a mother leopard is trying to call her cubs. Without hesitation, both cubs descended the tree followed shortly by their mother. There was no aggressive interaction between them whatsoever and the Nweti Male subsequently ascended the tree to feed.
He is a large, tall, and long male that has an incredible coat with rosettes that have spots in them that resemble those of a jaguar.
Male leopards play no part in the rearing of their young but will usually aggressively steal kills from any females in their territories. The fact that the Nweti Male was not only tolerating the cubs but essentially sharing the kill with them and their mother is evidence enough that he had mated with her and so he assumes that they are his own offspring.
The Ndzanzeni Female is no ordinary female leopard. She is the last remaining descendant of the original Mother Leopard and therefore the survival of her female offspring is pivotal in allowing the Mother Leopard’s lineage to live on. With us having more frequent sightings of her and her two young cubs we are starting to get more confident of the legacy of the Mother Leopard continuing. What a sighting! To have had four different leopards in the same tree within the space of a few minutes is something I will never forget!