February 2022

Precious moments with a new leopard cub


Precious moments with a new leopard cub

I think that for most guides it’s always such an emotional and exciting time when a leopard gives birth to a new litter of cubs. Leopards are notoriously elusive, which, for me, is one of the reasons they are my favourite animal to search for. Finding a leopard’s den is always extremely difficult as she does an amazing job of finding a safe and secluded position to hide her cubs when she leaves them alone to hunt or patrol her territory.

The Schotia female at Singita Sabi Sand is a firm favourite who has raised several litters on the property, most notably all three of her previous litters being born within the lodge perimeter and within eyeshot of both staff and guests alike. In all my time in the bush I have never known a leopard, a usually shy and secretive cat, to place so much trust in a lodge, its surroundings and its constant buzzing movement of both staff and guests. To me this is testament to the conservation efforts of Singita and the ongoing sensitivity shown to this particular leopard and her young with each and every litter.

At three months of age this single cub, survivor of a litter of two, is now at an age where it is more aware of the constant danger it finds itself in. It is very capable of climbing even the tallest of trees and is more accepting of our presence and occasional visits to its den area.

Leopard cub mortality is high at around 70%, largely due to the fact that there is a high leopard density in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve including a large population of males which often have overlapping territories. Add this to the large populations of both lion and spotted hyena and the odds are stacked against the female leopards and their very vulnerable young.

Schotia female is a leopard with an incredible territory on the southern bank of the Sand River with dense riverine woodland, granite rocky outcrops with incredible little hiding spots and a fantastic vantage to scan for both prey and foe. Her territory has an abundance of water sources and fantastic grassland areas which attract large numbers of impala which make up almost 80% of her diet. She is a mother who has had great success raising at least one individual cub to independence on the last two attempts, and is doing an incredible job of providing for and protecting her newest addition.

We are so privileged to have such access to an incredibly secretive cat and her most protected youngster. It is a privilege we never take for granted and are so appreciative of each of these unbelievable moments we get to spend in her presence. Only time will tell how this new cub will fare in this perfect but hostile environment. We look forward to observing the development of this new young leopard which gives hope to the ongoing survival of this amazing species.

Gareth Poole
By Gareth Poole
Field Guide