After a bout of heavy rainfall, we decided to take an opportunity to head into the northern parts of the reserve, which means crossing over the Sand River, something that may not have been possible a few hours later if the water levels of the river were to rise. Venturing into the north is always an exciting prospect especially as no one had gone there during the morning game drive, it was a blank canvas, and the opportunities were endless.
The plan for the afternoon was to try and find a leopard, more specifically, the Xinzele Female. Dorence and I hadn’t seen her or her daughter, recently renamed the Tumbela Female, for some time now and were interested to see if she truly was independent.
When heading onto Marthly, the guarantee is always the breathtaking beauty that unfolds. This cloudy afternoon was no exception. While looking for these elusive leopards, we were graced with a spectacular play of light when the sun broke through the clouds, casting a golden glow through the leadwood forest – a sight never tiresome. After marvelling at the leadwood forest, we pressed on, mindful that time was of the essence in our leopard pursuit.
Just when we all agreed to pause for a sundowner, Dorence, with his uncanny spotting skills, directed our attention to the Manyethi River, exclaiming “Leopard!” It took what felt like an eternity for me to spot her – a female leopard showcasing her beauty on a boulder in the riverbed. Though still at a distance, curiosity got the better of us, and we decided to take a chance and enter the river.
As we descended into the Manyethi River, we were met with a scene that etched itself into my memory. The last light of the day sneaked through the clouds, illuminating the perfect boulder upon which the Tumbela Female lay.
Having not seen her for a while and considering her recent independence, I was keen to see how she would react to our presence. Once comfortably positioned, we turned off the vehicle, and in complete silence, the entire group watched this magnificent creature in her element. Her confidence was evident from the start.
While newly independent leopards can sometimes display nervousness, the Tumbela Female moved through the riverbed as if we were invisible. She leapt gracefully among the boulders, granting us numerous photo opportunities from different angles before heading towards the leadwood forest.
It became apparent that she was following the scent of another leopard. Though unsure of the identity of the other leopard, her confident movements hinted at the possibility of encountering her mother. Despite her independence, the allure of potentially encountering her mother at this stage proved irresistible.
We decided to respect her space after following her for a considerable distance. The day concluded with uncertainty about whether she reunited with another leopard or not. One thing is certain – the Tumbela Female seems to be embracing her independence with grace. Here’s to hoping for more sightings like this in the future.