Over the last few months we, and in particular me, have been spoilt with the sightings that we have had on Londolozi. We are going through such exciting times with a lot of emphasis on the leopards and their cubs. We have had the privilege of viewing not just one leopard with cubs – BUT THREE. The Nhlanguleni Female with her two cubs, the Mashaba Female and her two cubs, and the Xinzele Female with her two cubs with the prospects of maybe the Ndzanzeni Female also having cubs.
I do not mean to take anything away from the phenomenal viewing of the leopard cubs with this blog, but for me, the pinnacle of viewing over the last two months was not of a leopard and its cubs at all, and trust me I have seen some amazing sights with the new additions to the leopards of Londolozi.
The sighting was not your everyday occurrence and probably one that I am unlikely to see for quite some time. Once again, while sitting in the office working on the Virtual Safari for the week, my phone buzzes and there was a message on our Rangers Team Whatsapp group. One of our Anti-Poaching Patrolmen had just seen a cheetah with four cubs walking down one of the main access roads to the lodge.
Initially highly sceptical of how legitimate this was, it had my attention caught, eagerly perched on the edge of my seat ready to go have a look just in case. The scepticism stemmed from us being completely unaware of any female cheetah in that area that could have cubs. Minutes later photographic evidence came through proving this update to in fact be true.
Quick to my feet, I scrambled to grab my camera gear and not forget any batteries or camera cards, in the process, Chris Kane-Berman and his Daughter Megan, joined me on another exciting cub endeavour.
Our excitement was palpable as cheetahs are rare enough to see let alone one with tiny cubs. According to Chris, who has been at Londolozi for about 30 years, cheetah cubs this small had not been seen for a very long time.
With cheetahs being at the bottom of the big predator hierarchy and the nature in which they raise their young, it is extremely difficult for a mother to raise her young to adulthood. There are so many threats out there that would likely kill a cheetah cub if it came close to one, and across Londolozi, there is an abundance of said threats. Lion, leopard and hyena populations are tremendously high, all of which would not give a second thought to killing the young and helpless cheetah cubs.
Due to the cheetah’s preferred habitat and hunting grounds of the wide-open grasslands, ideal dens such as beautiful rocky outcrops, clusters of boulders, or thick riverine vegetation and flood debris, are few and far between. Forcing cheetah mothers to rely mostly on long grass and clumps of thick branches of a fallen thorny tree as a den. There is no crevice or place to hide apart from hunkering down in the grass hoping to go unnoticed.
In order to help them blend in better, thankfully young cheetahs have the long white mantle fur on their backs. There are some theories stating that they supposedly resemble the ferocious honey badger in appearance and this should deter any threats. I don’t know how much I believe in that theory but I can see some plausibility in it. I just can’t see how a lion would just leave it alone because it looks like a honey badger.
Should the cheetah cubs survive the first few months with their mother secretly visiting them to nurse them, they begin to give off their own scent. They, therefore, do not want to be staying in the same area too long, so the mother will start to move them around more. It is also at this age that they will begin to eat meat and now risk traversing the grasslands with their mother while she searches for prey or if she has been successful she will return to collect them and take them across to feed on the carcass.
Now, while negotiating this daunting world, the cheetah cubs are only just able to stumble over the long grass, and would automatically flee in all directions should any threat catch them off-guard. This is highly stressful for the mother as she is then unsure where the cubs have all run off to and makes it easy for the threat to pick off a cub that is bounding through the grass with little ability to get away. The mother is leading them to the carcass, which is likely to start smelling and attract the likes of a few pesky hyenas.
All in all, without dwelling on the difficulties of a mother cheetah trying to raise cubs, it was breathtaking to find this mother with her four young cubs walking down the road in the distance.
Forgive the shaky camera work, I was using an enormous lens and the excitement was getting the better of me.
The mother is a young female and this is likely to have been her very first litter. I do know that there had been a young female moving around the grasslands and spending a bit of time to the west of Londolozi. But nobody knew that she was pregnant, although it is difficult to know whether a female cheetah is pregnant here. Not seeing the cheetah often in conjunction with such a short gestation period of three months means that they could fall pregnant and give birth with no one even noticing.
However, we got to see her with all four cubs and after sitting with them hiding in the grass and the mother being ultra-alert, she got up and walked out from the long grass and into the road revealing her cubs to us. Before then cutting back into the grass and moving steadily for a while before settling down again. The light was fading and without wanting to put any extra stress or pressure on the mother we left them and hoped that we would see them again in the next few days. Sadly, for us, we believe that they then moved further south off of Londolozi and we hope that they will return and randomly pop up for us to view them again.