During my time as a guide working at Singita Kruger National Park, I spent many long hours with the Xinkelegane female. She was one of the most relaxed and therefore commonly seen female leopards in the area. She was at ease with vehicles and this allowed us to closely observe her in her natural environment. We became familiar with both her habits and movements.
One morning we managed to locate two tiny leopard cubs and immediately knew they belonged to her as she had been heavily pregnant. She had hidden them in a rocky outcrop in the middle of her territory, taking every precaution to ensure their safety. In due course she slowly introduced them to us and it was wonderful following their progress, watching them develop their skills that would play such an important role later in life.
Now coming back to Singita’s private concession in the Kruger National Park, having not seen the cubs for over a year, I could hardly believe it when I heard one of the guides announce that he had located Xinkelegane’s young male offspring with an impala kill. Way to go! He was now completely self-sufficient, a successful hunter, and he had brought down an impala ram. We headed to an open area which was dotted with large Acacias and a male impala kill lodged at the top of a tree was the giveaway – the male leopard was close by.
And then we spotted him, almost fully-grown. We knew the father that sired him, and the resemblance between the two was remarkable. He was strong and healthy and had finally grown into his oversized head, which made him appear slightly awkward in his earlier years.
Impala rams are extremely active at this time of year and dedicate a great deal of their time and energy rounding up females and fighting off other rival males. This, together with them being unusually vocal means they are targeted by most of the larger predators.
We decided to spend some time with the leopard, hoping to see him scale the tree and feed on the impala he had strategically wedged between branches. Eventually without bother, he glanced at the impala and proceeded to climb the Acacia.
Watching him feed, I pondered on what a long way he had come and what a fantastic job his mother had done in raising him. There were plenty of close calls, but he had made it through his first year, the most challenging of all. Now I had witnessed him in all his glory, a survivor in this harsh environment.
James Suter, Field Guide, exploring Singita Kruger National Park.