Having just celebrated a wonderful Christmas and the new year on the horizon, I thought it would be a good time to look back on another amazing year in the bush. 2022 for me, has been full of incredible sightings and moments that have made it one of my best yet.
Although it has been an incredible year all around, it is two different mothers that have raised their cubs to independence that really stand out to me.
The First Mother: The Nkoveni Female
We know the struggles of a mother leopard in raising cubs to independence. Especially in an area with predator densities as high as they are in the Sabi Sand Nature Reserve. As we welcomed the year 2022, the whole of Londolozi was secretly hoping that we would have the privilege of watching the Nkoveni Female raise both her cubs to independence. Raising one cub to independence is an incredible feat on its own, raising two hardly ever happens.
A gorgeous female who is found to the east of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
Also young and playful but rather with a spot pattern of 3:2. She is slightly bigger than her sister.
A stunning young female with a very similar spot pattern to her mother, the Nkoveni Female. Litter still completely intact March 2022.
Being born in February of 2021 both young females were rapidly approaching one year in age come 2022, and their chances of survival were increasing drastically. After reaching the one-year mark, leopard cubs’ chances of reaching independence are significantly higher as they are now much better climbers, are physically capable of escaping danger and have enough experience under their belts to determine what would be a life-threatening situation.
Watching these young females grow physically and in confidence throughout the year has been one of my biggest highlights. On the rare occasion, that the three leopards were found together on an open crest, it was definitely worthwhile trying to get there to see them. With the playful adventurous nature of the youngsters, eager to hone and develop their skills the trio would play endlessly. Many would agree that it’s harder to get better leopard viewing. The amazing mother the Nkoveni Female had her hands full but made this thankless task a wonder for us to witness. Constantly having to provide for the rapidly growing appetites of her two daughters, sightings of her were entertaining.
The new chapter going into 2023 is another exciting one with both the young females being independent now and having their own names. The one young female, the Xinkhova Female is spending the majority of her time in the eastern parts of Londolozi, and the second young female, whom we will formally introduce in the very near future, is seen much less on Londolozi and is spending time in the southern parts of her mother’s territory.
What happens next is up in the air, but we are all crossing our fingers that all three of these females manage to stay in the area.
The Second Mother: A Female Cheetah
Like mother leopards, mother cheetahs have a tremendously hard time raising cubs. This mother cheetah was seen for the first time late last year with two young cubs probably around the ages of two-three months. Unfortunately, once we got to the new year, one of the cubs had not made it for reasons we aren’t sure of, leaving this mother cheetah with one cub to put her full effort into.
Sightings of this incredible mother cheetah and her young male cub became a lot more frequent as of the beginning of the year. At Londolozi, the majority of our cheetah viewing is in the open grasslands of the southwest, the terrain and habitat are much better suited to the high-speed chases of a cheetah going after its prey. But for these two cheetahs, we saw them all around Londolozi. The movements of the mother would have been in order to keep her cub safe, not occupying an area for too long allows for them to go for longer periods undetected.
Whenever we did see these two, the sightings were spectacular and we went through a period where they were found very regularly. It will be interesting to see what happens next for the young male but watching him develop alongside his mother this year has been one of the most fascinating learning curves for me. He is most likely at a point now where he will break away from his mother and begin his nomadic solitary journey of growth and development until finding a vacant territory of his own.
Being able to watch these young predators grow has been one of the many highlights of 2022. The next stage of life will be difficult, but with the learnings of their incredible mothers, I believe we will be getting awesome sightings of all three in the years to come.