Over the last few months at Londolozi, we have been incredibly spoilt having found a number of different female leopards with dens and in essence young leopard cubs. Finding a den is extremely rewarding and the healthy competition amongst the rangers and trackers causes us to set goals to find the new dens of mother Leopards. Through the amazing viewing, we can hopefully see we then encourage and reinforce the relationships between the wild leopard of Londolozi and all of us that get the privilege to view them and their young for many years to come.
I was incredibly lucky to watch the Nhlanguleni Female move her two young cubs down towards the Sand River. Since that day we had not seen the cubs and had tried our best to find where she had moved them too.
On a recent afternoon game drive, we (the guests, myself, and tracker Advice) decided to set out in search of the Nhlanguleni’s den again. The first place we wanted to look was where we had seen her cross the river. To our disappointment, there were no clear fresh signs of her coming out of the river but only tracks 0f her going back in.
Initially skittish she spent a lot of time in the Sand River, now relaxed she makes up the majority of leopard viewing west of camp.
Without hesitation, tracker Advice and I were off of the vehicle and began tracking her on foot and before I knew it I was immersed in what ended up being one of my favourite adventures at Londolozi.
The main focus was tracking the Nhlanguleni Female but it became so much more than that…
Sometimes we catch ourselves as we forget the deeper meaning behind tracking. It is more than just following an animal’s footprints in the hopes of finding it. It is learning how nature moves, and how the meandering channels of the river can change this leopard’s course. How she is drawn to thicker vegetated areas that allow through specs of dappled light hiding her beneath her rosetted coat or how she avoids the sound of buffalo’s tail swooshing the flies away.
Now we were on her trail, moving through the wilderness in dense vegetation surrounded by all that she would be likely to encounter, we too had to walk like her. Looking for the shallower easier parts to cross the river, using the hidden hippo paths that slink beneath the large overhanging trees of the riparian forest. Avoiding any signs of danger, in this case, a buffalo. This is the art of being truly present.
When crossing the shallow water of the Sand River we had to take our shoes off, one shoe was already soaked as I slipped on a rock into the water so I decided to let them dry in the sun and track barefoot in the Sand River. This somehow made me feel more connected to the soil beneath my feet and more connected to this Leopard. There is something so special about placing your bare foot on top of a leopard’s track.
Your brain starts to turn off all the busy to-do lists in your mind and starts to switch on your senses, focusing on what is right in front of you. Your survival instinct kicks in and you start to move like you are a part of the ecosystem around you. You can hear your heart beating and you focus on that to keep your mind still. Every turn the Nhlanguleni Female made, we turned too. Everywhere she stopped to listen, we did too.
We tracked her until the sun started to sink towards the horizon and was almost shining along the river at eye level to us through the trees warning us that it was about to set. Without having found this leopard but knowing or feeling that we were so close to her we decided to retreat back to the vehicle before it got too dark. Sometimes, I wonder if once we had left she returned back using this same path and walked over our tracks too.