Crossing into the northern parts of the reserve, Marthly, is always exciting; it is a large piece of land with a low density of roads. There is something mystical about it and so when you find something in the north, it is often that much more rewarding.
As we crossed through the Sand River, we received an update from ranger Nick Tennick that he had found the Xinzele Female leopard with a fresh impala kill that she had just hoisted up into a marula tree. We were eager to get there and see what was to unfold.
A small female often found in NW Marthly. Similar spot pattern to her mother the Ingrid Dam Female.
Upon arriving, we could see her draped over a large marula tree branch. Her claws were firmly affixed to her quarry. She was still in the process of catching her breath from not only hoisting the carcass into the tree but probably also the actual hunt too. This was very exciting, as we knew that she would, at some point during the morning, go and fetch her cub. With the prospect of this being high, we decided to skip breakfast and stay with her until she did exactly that.
After she had fed a small amount and had a chance to rest, she decided to stash the carcass higher in the tree, where it was more secure and concealed while she would be away. She descended and started off on a long walk north. Making it clear that she was on her way towards the cub. Our excitement levels were high.
After about an hour, she was approaching the northern boundary of Marthly. It was a very hot day, and it was well past midmorning by now. She needed to rest regularly so that she would not overheat and expend unnecessary energy. During the heat of the day, when most other predators aren’t active, is the safest time for her to go and collect the cub without gaining any unwanted attention. Our excitement started to dwindle somewhat as we had lost view of her for a while, very near the northern boundary. After quite some time, we spotted her again, but she was well clear of our boundary. We were excited and hopeful that we would see the initial reunion of mother and cub, but the chances of this were fading fast.
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Fortunately, she settled up on a road underneath a large silver cluster-leaf tree. We could see her clearly, despite her being out of our reach. We watched her for about five minutes more and then decided we were going to return in the afternoon. Just as we were packing up to leave, she got up and gave out a loud, deep rasp – “She’s calling the cub!”, Tracker Terrence and I said at the same time. Seconds later, a small leopard came flying out of the bushes and leapt right across the road onto its mother! We could not believe our luck! Mother and cub together!
Tracker Terrence and I were lost for words. For whatever reason (it might just be fate), this cub has evaded me for almost an entire year. The last time we saw her was in May last year, when she was about half the size of a domestic house cat. She was born into a litter of two, and sadly, her sibling did not make it. It was so incredibly special for Tracker Terrence and me to see them together again after all this time. We finally found ourselves in the right place at the right time.
Born into a litter of two, male cub did not survive. Sightings of have been few and far between, although becoming more regular.
I found myself lost in thought for a few moments, looking into this young leopard’s eyes. Pondering about the many trials and tribulations that filled the spaces between my last sighting with her. So much happens in the lives of these elusive cats that we never see. We are incredibly privileged to view these snippets of their story.
For the most part, however, for a young mother, the Xinzele Female is doing incredibly well in raising her cub. Both of them are looking very healthy and have recently been starting to spend a little more time on Marthly than they have in the past year. This incredible sighting we had of mother and cub was only one of the many precious natural events that occur almost daily on Londolozi, whether one is there to bear witness to them or not.