Few words can accurately convey how I felt as a tiny leopard cub with its big blue eyes peered over a boulder towards us. It is a moment I have been eagerly anticipating for the last two and a bit years since I started working at Londolozi. I was warned it would take time and patience and of course of the flush of emotions that might come over me, and I can let you know now that it was well worth the wait and the build-up and the wait.
So with that being said, I am thrilled to confirm the answer to ranger Jess Shillaw’s recent post – Does the Nhlanguleni female have cubs? is an exciting…
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.
How we found the den
It goes without saying, but finding a leopard den site is no easy feat. This time, however, we had a few factors working in our favour. Although the Nhlanguleni Females tracks were initially traced up and down the middle channel of the Sand River, we were able to eliminate any possibility of now finding the den in the dense foliage of the Sand River, since the water levels had risen significantly. This did, however, have us all holding our breath, hoping that the Nhlanguleni Female would have been able to move her cub/cubs to a safer den in time, away from the raging torrents.
Subsequent to this the ranger and tracker teams have been on a constant search for any evidence that would head towards any of the familiar den sites that the Nhlanguleni Female has used over the years. As Sean Zeederberg has shared with us before, finding the actual leopard den still comes with its frustrations, but of course nothing beats the pure joy once you do find it.
This time, towards the end of February, ranger and tracker duo, Melvin and Milton were the first to share the exciting news that they had seen the Nhlanguleni Female with her latest cub at a set of prominent boulders that I have driven past countless times dreaming of the day I would finally find a leopard cub here.
While heading straight to these boulders seems like the obvious thing to do, it is not quite that simple – timing and patience are everything out here. So on this particular afternoon, we searched everywhere we could within the Nhlanugleni Female’s territory with not a single track to be found. We then crossed our fingers and finally made our way to the boulders. We sat at the first set of boulders in silence for 10 minutes – no luck.
We then moved to the opposite side of the dry river bed where tracker Bennet Mathonsi pointed out the flattened grass where the Nhlanguleni Female had been resting and mostly likely suckling her cub, possibly just a few hours before.
The First Glimpse
I couldn’t believe it as we turned the corner to check the final set of boulders when Bennet exclaimed with joy that he had spotted the tiny cub and in a flash, it had disappeared into the safety of a deep rock crevice. My guests and I had missed this first glimpse. With my heart now pounding with excitement and anticipation, it certainly didn’t take much to convince my guests that we should sit again in silence to see if the cub would make one more appearance. The odds were certainly not in our favour, as without the mother being around and providing comfort and safety, and the cubs having not been exposed to many vehicles it was unlikely to reveal itself.
There is only so much I can say to encapsulate this moment and just let the pictures speak for themselves. Binoculars at the ready we were able to get an unforgettable view of the Nhlanguleni Female’s new cub. By piecing back together the timing of the first sighting of the Nhlanguleni Female with a milk pouch to now, looking at the size and current behaviour of the cub, we can assume that the cub is probably around 6 weeks old.
Needless to say what a privilege it is to be able to witness this new life at Londolozi and share the exciting news with you! Be sure to stay tuned for more updates and photos coming soon.