With summer in full swing the palette of the African savannah is painted in vivid greens. Life seems to be erupting from between every grain of sand, budding blossom or temporary pan that is filled with the life giving waters so essential for life on Earth to survive.
Impala lambs, zebra foals and wildebeest calves are just a few of the regular arrivals planned by nature to arrive in a time of plenty when the youngsters and mothers have just a few months to prepare for the coming winter when food and water are far more scarce and predators are only too happy to take advantage of weakened prey. Every so often though, one of my favourite animals gives birth to her young, one so beautiful and secretive that people travel the world to see just a glimpse of them.
The Hlab’Nkunzi female, a leopardess that has her territory around the riverine areas surrounding Ebony and Boulders lodges, has just given birth to two such miracles. Early in December 2016 she gave birth in the Ebony lodge perimeter, a place she clearly feels very comfortable birthing in as she gave birth to her last litter there two years before. With bated breath we have all been waiting in the last few months for our first glimpse of these little treasures in the land and on the 24th of February on a wet and gloomy morning were finally rewarded.
After a morning spent tracking a male leopard, listening to frogs and enjoying the antics of bathing birds, we came across an antelope kill in a tree. The excitement bubbling over as we realised we had found the male leopard we had spent over two hours tracking through long grass and woodlands, and he wasn’t alone… his mother was with him! We hadn’t seen the two together for many months as he, having been raised to maturity by his mother, was now expected to fend for himself.
It was evident that his mother (the Hlab’nkunzi female) was not happy with his presence there and we began trying to piece together what might have happened during the night for the two to come together. After a brief fact-finding quest, we decided that her son must have been passing through the area when he smelt the carcass or else heard something to lead him to this spot, and before I could even finish explaining my theory to our guests, our tracker Mishack excitedly pointed out that the two leopards were not alone and that in fact the entire few minutes we had been sitting there two tiny three-month old leopard cubs had been watching us intently from a denser patch in the weeping boer-bean tree the kill was hoisted in.
After training our binoculars to the spot and watching the young leopard cubs come out to the reassuring calls of their mother we sat and enjoyed arguably one of the finest sightings I have ever been a part of. Hopefully in the coming months we will enjoy more time with these elusive and incredibly beautiful little creatures.
(Editor’s note: Since this article was written the Hlab’Nkunzi female has unfortunately lost one of her cubs.)