This week was full of rare sightings for me. In the over five years of working here at Londolozi, this week was the first time I saw mating crocodiles, or so many painted dog pups running around my vehicle. After watching the Nkuwa Female leopard grow up from a young cub, it was a joyful moment seeing her with her two cubs for the first time. So, as one does, I zipped open my camera bag in a hurry and took as many photos as I could to capture these exciting moments.
Not only were we lucky enough to view all these sightings but we were also fortunate enough to watch the Maxim’s Male and the Nkoveni Female mate. It has been around five weeks since the Nkoveni Female lost her cubs to the Three Rivers Female, so it was interesting for us as rangers to record how long it took for a female leopard to go back into estrus (ready to mate again).
The theme for this week in pictures seems to be pups, cubs, and mating which to me are all positive for the health of the animal populations here at Londolozi. Without rambling on too much, here is my selection of images for the week.
Let me know your favourites in the comments section below.
Enjoy This Week In Pictures…
The Nkuwa Female stares at a herd of impala in the distance. After leaving her two cubs in a safe area in the Sand River she continued in search of food to provide for her and her cubs. She does not only have to hunt for herself but also for her two now very big male cubs which makes every move she makes very important to their survival.
One of two sisters born to the Nhlanguleni Female, both of whom made it to independence, the first intact litter to do so in 7 years.
The Nkuwa Female’s cubs play. The one cub was more nervous than the other so we waited patiently to give it time to relax, fortunately, it paid off and it joined his brother and mother on the mound.
We were searching for a leopard that we had just heard call along the Sand River, quite likely the Senegal Bush Male and as we came around the corner we spotted a crocodile moving in a strange position. When we looked closely we noticed that was not just one crocodile but two and they were mating! We were very fortunate to see them in the shallows so that we could witness this secret event that very few here have actually seen.
The Othawa Pack leads the pups across the Sand River. The pups are well aware of the dangers that lurk below in the dark depths of the river and wait with hesitation to get the signal from the adults to come across.
The Nkuwa female’s cub nuzzles her as they rest on top of a termite mound. It was early morning and ranger Kate Arthur and I heard monkeys alarm calling along the Sand River and were rewarded with the Nkuwa Female and her two cubs walking out of the river. The Nkuwa Female has been moving her two cubs between the Sand River and a very thick rocky drainage line. Here she was moving them to the drainage line to keep them safe.
A wild dog in the Sand River. The fear of crocodiles makes this individual stop and watch for any signs of them in the deeper parts of the river.
Often the rangers here at Londolozi want to capture a shot of an animal crossing the Sand River with this rocky hill in the background. I never thought I was going to get this shot of a wild dog here.
The Three Rivers Young Male catches his breath at the base of the tree that he wants to hoist his zebra kill in. He dragged this zebra fowl for a while to get to this tree which he thought would be good to secure his kill away from the scavenging hyenas. I personally am drawn to the contrasting coats of rosettes and stripes.
One of two cubs to survive, the sister lost at five months. Still dependent on his mother, but is growing into an impressive young male.
While photographing this zebra a waterbuck appeared in my shot. It is quite different and you do not often get a close-up shot of them both next to each other.
The hooded vultures that follow the pack. Often when we as rangers and trackers look for the pack we follow vultures as a sign that the pack is or has been there. Vultures tend to follow the pack around as wild dogs have a high hunting success rate and thus will often have food for the vultures to scavenge.
Unlike the big cats that we see here at Londolozi, wild dogs often play and cool off in pools of water. Here a wild dog had been resting in the water, cooling off after a long morning of activity. My aim for this photo was to try and get its reflection in the water as it walked past but the ripples in the water made this not as easy.
Here the pups beg the adult for some food by squealing and using their snouts to bump the adult’s mouth, this usually encourages the adults to regurgitate some food. The pups will not be able to keep up in a hunt just yet or might even get lost in the confusion thus the adults leave the pups behind with a so-called ‘babysitter’ while they go off hunting. Once successful the adults gorge themselves and return to the pups.
It is not usual to see three leopards on one termite mound. The two cubs of the Nkuwa Female watch a francolin fly past. As cubs, they will practice to hunt and stalk on small prey like francolins.
The Nkuwa Female snarls at her young male cub as he comes to greet her. Often leopard mothers greet their cubs with grooming and affection but she was getting ready to leave for an evening’s hunt. Often the cubs can read their mother’s body language and see the snarls as a sign to stay and not follow her.
The Othawa pack comes together as they try to cross the Sand River. The pack tried several spots to try to find the part of the river that is shallow knowing that crocodiles can not hide in the shallows. The nervous pups stayed close to the adults in the river to stay safe.
A low-angle shot of a zebra. The grey-blue skies dramatized the zebra’s stripes and the framing of the rock was the look I was going for.
The Nkuwa Female and her cub on the exact same termite mound we saw her on a few days ago but this time on a cloudy morning. Leopards will often use the same termite mound or tree in their territories as they move through it.
A member of the Othawa Pack cools off in a pool of mud and water. After resting in the shade all day, the pack started to slowly get active and this painted dog decided to cool off first before hunting again. I just love how the sunlight is catching the honey-coloured eyes of the wild dog in this picture.
A calm scene of a buffalo bull drinking in the Sand River. Usually, we photograph large herds of buffalo drinking which can be chaotic, and the water often splashes and ripples. That is why I wanted to get this shot because I could get just one bull drinking and his reflection.
Both the Nkuwa Female and one of her cubs sitting in the exact same position, just facing opposite directions.
The sun was setting and created this angelic light around these two leopards as they bumped heads together. The Nkuwa female was soon to leave her cubs and continue to stalk into the night.
A pup from the Othawa Pack stares at the rest of the pups playing with each other in the sand. Just a brief moment of stillness. Often the pups are hard to photograph as they are often running around playing with each other practicing their hunting skills.
Mating between leopards can be quite aggressive and this photo shows the paws and claws being thrashed around as the Maxim’s Male dismounts the Nkoveni Female.
Fairly skittish male that is presumed to have come from the Kruger National Park.
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.
The Maxims Male rests after mating with the Nkoveni Female. While he was resting in the grass a fly was bothering him. Here you can see he is trying to bite the fly back. While he raised his head, his whiskers glowed in the light emphasising how long a leopard’s whiskers are.
Just two pups playing in the sand. I always think their coats look like someone has painted them with watercolours.
Another sighting we had of the Othawa pack, we got to see them almost every day for 6 days which was very rare. Luckily for us, the pups are still very young and the pack does not travel the vast distances they can when they have pups this age as the pups will struggle to keep up with them.