Every drive has its ebbs and flows- moments of pure excitement, moments of tranquillity, moments of chaos and moments of calm.
One specific morning in the not-so-distant past included a lot of the above-mentioned feelings. The morning started off with us heading into one of the more picturesque areas of the reserve the southwestern grasslands. With the intention of finding a cheetah, arguably one of our less frequent predator sightings, we scoured the open grasslands with very little, to no, luck we decided to cut our losses and make our way into the territory of a well-known but elusive leopard, the Ndzanzeni Female.
This female is a success story all in herself, being born as a single cub to the Riverbank 3:3 female in early 2012.
The Ndzanzeni Female’s territory is right in the southeastern corner of Londolozi. Given its distance from camp, this particular area isn’t driven as frequently as others on the reserve which results in us seeing this particular female less than a few of the others.
With sightings of her being few and far between, we decided to take another gamble and see what the remainder of the morning had to offer. Although I would like to tell you how we spent hours tracking her with an eventual sighting, it was in fact the complete opposite. However, sometimes luck is on your side. As we were about to call it a day to start making our way back towards camp for breakfast, tracker Life Sibuyi pointed up ahead. Turning back towards to vehicle, he announced “there is a leopard crossing the road”. At this time of year, during the summer months, the grass in this area is extremely long. As we got closer, all we could see was the tip of her tail as she was walking away from us.
As we followed her through the long grass, Life and I looked at each other and simultaneously blurted out “she’s got cubs”. We knew this from the prominent milk pouch that she had. A milk pouch is a distended or low-hanging saggy belly that indicates lactation. Excitement grew as she continued to walk through the grass, with Life directing us through.
As we followed her through the grass fairly late in the morning, we were all in absolute hope that she was going to lead us back to where she was keeping her little one(s). This was both unfortunately and fortunately the case. Unfortunately, she did not lead us back to where she was denning her cubs at the time. But instead, we were fortunate enough to witness the pure patience of a leopard, as she was trying to hunt an impala. Even though our sights were set on viewing a leopard with her cubs, we were able to spend a fair amount of time with the Ndzanzeni Female as she had her own sights set on a herd of impala.
Thankful for a morning of luck, we left her in her patient ambush of a meandering herd of impala and headed in the direction of camp.
I am extremely fascinated with this specific leopard having cubs. The reason is, that the Ndzanzeni Female is the last surviving female of the ‘Royal Family’ of leopards at Londolozi. Meaning that she is a direct descendent of the first leopard viewable from a vehicle on Londolozi, the Mother Leopard.
As leopard lineages are only tracked through female leopards, the Ndzanzeni Female is our last hope of continuing the direct lineage from the Mother Leopard. Although she has raised a cub to independence, the Tortoise Pan Male, unfortunately, the lineage line ends with males.
As a result, we are all holding onto serious hope that one of the cubs in this new litter is a female. So that she can continue the Mother Leopard lineage. The team of rangers will most likely be spending a fair bit of time down in the southeastern parts of the reserve, searching the area intently for both new dens and den sights that the Ndzanzeni female has used before.
Hopefully, fairly soon I can confirm that we have found the den and that one of the cubs is a female. Holding thumbs!