Leopards’ private lives often remain a secret, however when you come to know some of the individuals and eventually gain their trust that secret may be shared. They are widespread and by no means endangered, however leopards are both shy and elusive and if a leopard does not want to be seen, the chances are you won’t find it. They are often active throughout the day; their nocturnal habits have developed in most areas and may be a response to both human activity and possibly better hunting conditions. It always brings me joy watching these animals in their natural environment and being active animals, they continuously present a marvelous sighting.
In the Singita concessions there are plenty of places to hide but with the assistance of our knowledgeable trackers we are able to locate leopards on a pretty regular basis. We mostly rely on the signs they leave behind and the art of trailing spoor, which is an essential skill, if these animals are to be consistently found. However, I would love to know how many times we have driven or walked straight past these cats with no idea of their whereabouts. Their mottled rosettes allow them to blend in, in almost any terrain.
There is always a great deal of excitement when one discovers a fresh track of a leopard, or the word “ingwe” (Shangaan for leopard), is uttered over the radio. It is an animal that people want to see and I completely understand why. There are ample leopards which are now habituated to our presence and our sightings at Singita Sabi Sand have increased dramatically over the years. One never knows when you may find one, but when you do it’s a experience you’ll remember for a very long time.
Follow James Suter this week as he heads over to Singita’s private concession in the Kruger National Park to trek through the reserve and bring the wild closer.
It’s peculiar, for the amount of times that lions mate, it is quite a rare sight to actually catch them in the act. However lions do not mate at any specific time of the year and are not always that easy to find. Singita Kruger National Park is lion country and during my guiding career I have been fortunate to have some fantastic opportunities to see these guys in action. A pair of mating lions is an interesting affair, which involves a fair deal of aggression, acrobatics, persistence and astonishing vocals all thrown into one performance.
On this particular day we found one of the young males from the Southern pride showing keen interest in a young female. It’s often quite easy to observe sexual behavior in lions and if one is patient, the reward is well worth the wait. Mating is initiated by both male and female, but seemingly more often by the female who is full of energy during her oestrus. We sat with the animals for some time before the female gestured to the male and presented herself to him.
Most lionesses will have reproduced by the time they are four years of age. This was still a young female and possibly her first intermit experience with the opposite sex. As with other cats, the male lion’s penis has fine barbs, which point backwards. Upon withdrawal, the barbs rake the walls of the female’s vagina, which may cause ovulation but obvious pain. After he mounted her we watched in awe as she clearly voiced her discomfort, lashing out at the male with snarls of displeasure.
This aggressive response from the female is all part of the act and a mating bout, which could last several days. They will copulate twenty to forty times a day each lasting about 20 seconds at a time. They may even go without eating during their time together.
We located the couple over the next few days, with the male keeping a close eye on his four brothers, making sure they knew this young female belonged to him and that it was going to be his genes that were passed on successfully. If mating failed, the lioness will come into oestrus again in 16 days and possibly another lion will be successful, however I feel in this case this male managed to seal the deal as he gave quite a performance.
We hope you’ll follow James Suter as he blogs from Singita’s private game reserves across Africa – tracking the natural rhythms of the wild.
While driving through the Northern parts of the Lebombo concession, a guide calls in over the radio that he has just located two lionesses. Both the animals were lactating as their mamary glands were enlarged. This got me really excited and I knew if we was patient and spent some time with these animals we stood a good chance of being introduced to her cubs.
As we gained visual of the two cats, they separated and I decided to stick with the one that was heading staight toward a large drainage line, a perfect area for her to hide her youngsters. She was walking with purpose and the excitement levels started to build amongst us in the vehicle. We followed her for about thirty minutes keeping our distance, being careful not to disturb her. She eventually lead us through a drainage line toward a dense thicket protected by large amoured thorns. Switching off the vehicle, all in silence, heads cocked in anticipation, we listened. Time passed as we sat under the cover of a large sigamore fig waiting, and eager to find out if this was the very place this lioness had chosen to hide her cubs. To our amazement we heard a faint cry coming from deep withing the inaccessible brush, a sound that could only be produced by a lion cub.
We approached cautiously towards the thicket and finally gained visual of two tiny cubs, no more than three weeks old. It was such a build up to such an incredible reward. What was so astonishing to me was how relaxed the mother was with the presence of the vehicle, showing no sign of aggression. The cubs grew inquisitive and eventually approached within a meter of the vehicle constantly calling, seeking their mother’s approval. These cubs were very young and had not yet been introduced to the rest of the pride. What an incredible moment it was.
We discussed how vital it was for the cubs to have a safe haven and that during the hiding period they were at great risk. But these cubs were very well hidden and stood a good chance of survival. I felt privilaged to have been aquainted with these tiny creatures and grateful to their mother for tolorating our presence.
Keep up with our weekly blog series as James Suter takes us on a journey through the African bushveld, bringing the wild closer.
From a young age I had always dreamed of working in the bush. I visited the Lowveld a couple of times with my family growing up and had always longed to work in this beautiful area that was filled with all sorts of natural wonders. In 2008 I was selected to partake in the Singita Guide training course. This entailed an intensive six months of training under the head trainer Alan Yeowart, based at Singita Sabi Sand.
This is where my career as a guide began and where my passion for photography grew. We spent most of the six months out in the bush – learning to track game, and animal behaviour, how to shoot a rifle and identify the vast amount of organisms found in the area. We were also able to visit the Malilangwe Reserve in Zimbabwe (Singita Pamushana Lodge) and trail the elusive black rhino as well as visiting the N’wanetsi concession in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. These three concessions were all so different and so we became familiar with many different types of vegetation, birdlife, and wildlife that occur in Southern Africa.
Once I was equipped with the skills that were instilled in me during my training, I was placed up at Singita Kruger National Park working as a Field Guide in the N’wanetsi concession. This would be my home for the next three years. It was an incredible place with high concentrations of lion, breathtaking scenery and a wealth of diversity, all within fifteen thousand hectares of wilderness.
With four years of guiding under my belt, this year I have the opportunity to revisit my old stomping ground at Singita Kruger National Park, as well as all of the other Singita properties situated in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania. I hope to continue learning throughout the year, and share the newfound knowledge gained. I also hope to document my time spent in these incredible locations and all the beautiful and amazing sightings I am exposed to. Follow me as I share with you the unique character, amazing wildlife and incredible people that make Singita the place it is.
(Singita Kruger National Park – photograph by James Suter)
(Singita Sabi Sand – photograph by James Suter)
(Singita Grumeti Reserves – photograph by James Suter)