As most of you are aware, leopard viewing at Londolozi is quite remarkable. John Varty and Elmon Mhlongo’s hard work, time and dedication in the ’70s with the habituation of the Mother leopard has played a huge role in the leopards we view here today. Following their lead, trackers and rangers have utilized the knowledge passed down by these men and still to this day incorporate their approach towards leopards.
One leopard, in particular, has really struck a chord with me over the past couple of months and that is the Nkoveni Female.
Understanding the Nkoveni Female
The Mashaba Female gave birth to a litter of two cubs in (2012), one of which was only viewed briefly when a few days old and then never seen again. The second cub grew up to be the very well known and loved Nkoveni Female. She occupies a beautiful territory on Londolozi that encompasses large open marula crests and then extends down towards the Sand River to the east of our camps. Her relaxed demeaner and the fact that she is raising two playful and adventurous female cubs combined with the beautiful terrain in which we often find her makes her a very attractive leopard to search for. My good friend and tracker Dorence and I were driving a guest recently who quite liked the idea of focussing a few drives around searching for any signs of this mother and her cubs, as the chances of great photographic sightings were pretty high if we were able to find them.
This was an exciting prospect, as I had never focussed on looking for the same animal for two weeks straight. By attempting to look for her everyday this meant we were afforded the opportunity to fully imbue ourselves into this animal’s life and understand her movements in a way we have never before.
For the first couple drives we searched far and wide, unfortunately to no avail. This changed one afternoon when we set out for drive with a different target in mind before we got an update that she had crossed onto our side with her two cubs! The whole vehicle agreed that we would head straight into the area where we believe she would have crossed. Approaching the area, we all sat in anticipation with what was about to happen and then boom, there she was with her two beautiful cubs in a fallen over marula. Suddenly we all knew why we had spent countless hours looking for this female.
Appreciating the Nkoveni Female.
It couldn’t have been a more perfect afternoon. Firstly, there was a slight drizzle throughout the afternoon, cooling things down and causing the cubs to be in the most playful mood I had ever seen. Following them the whole afternoon as they played constantly around the marula crests, it couldn’t have been a better reward for our efforts. Once that magical afternoon had finished, it hit us that even if we didn’t get lucky as we had just been, we still had to try every drive to find this female and her wonderful two cubs, for the odd chance that we would be rewarded again.
After many more amazing encounters with these three amazing leopards I have started to appreciate her as a mother and the immense effort it takes in raising one cub, let alone two. The success rate of leopard cubs reaching independence is very low and she has almost raised two to independence, an amazing feat.
We are all so fortunate to view these animals on a daily basis and being given the opportunity to work with one of my good friends in understanding a specific leopard made me quite emotional.
I’ll look back on those two weeks in my life very fondly, as we were allowed to get to know a leopard like I have never before.