Cyberdiary: Mystery leopard cub, and other cats – Tuesday, 22 October 2012

Nothing matches the beauty of a young leopard cub - Gary Hill

Nothing matches the beauty of a young leopard cub - Gary Hill

On the morning of the 22nd we found a young leopard cub resting in a Marula Tree near Pat’s Drift Koppies. We did not recognise the cub at first glance, and estimated the age to be around six months. The cub had the rangers perplexed for a while, as we could not think of any female leopard that could possibly have cubs of this age, and in that area. The cub was very relaxed in the presence of vehicles and provided us with very good viewing. On closer inspection we could see the cub may be older than our initial impression, and after some research it was revealed that it was a cub belonging to the Matshipiri female from her litter produced in December 2011.

She showed off as she climbed from tree to tree - Gary Hill

She showed off as she climbed from tree to tree - Gary Hill

Marula trees provide the unlimate perch with long extending branches high above the ground - Gary Hill

Marula trees provide the unlimate perch with long extending branches high above the ground - Gary Hill

It was a young female and it is safe to assume for good now – after a sighting last month with only the mother and the female cub – that the male cub is no longer with us. The cub put on such a good show that a photographic group from Wild 4 Photographic Safaris spent the entire day with her. She climbed from tree to tree with exceptional skill and with relative ease, still descending backwards as young leopards do until they enhance their ability. The Matshipiri female was obviously out hunting or marking her territory and was happy to leave the cub to its own devices. Cubs of this age can be left on their own for a few days at a time and it is an important time for them to explore and enhance their skill set. They will usually stick to a confined area within a radius of where their mother has left them. This is exactly the behavior that we witnessed, with the cub not prepared to venture too far from where she was first found. It was only during late afternoon that the cub entered a thicket and revealed the remains of a female duiker that her mother must have killed for her.

Blood stains from feeding on her duiker are visible on her whiskers and nose - Gary Hill

Blood stains from feeding on her duiker are visible on her whiskers and nose - Gary Hill

The cub was very wary of feeding on the ground, and would not allow us to get too close. Her instincts are already kicking in, showing much resentment toward eagles flying overhead that she must have thought were vultures that may give away her hiding spot!

She bacame very alert when some eagles flew overhead - Gary Hill

She bacame very alert when some eagles flew overhead - Gary Hill

Once she was finished feeding, she buried a portion of the carcass with the aim of masking the scent. Impressive behavior from a youngster. We were hoping that the mother might return to the scene whilst we were watching but unfortunately she was obviously too preoccupied with her duties and did not make an appearance.

She was happy to rest on the branches of tall Marula trees for the day - Gary Hill

She was happy to rest on the branches of tall Marula trees for the day - Gary Hill

Meanwhile, the Styx pride of lions was resting not too far away from where the young leopard was stationed. As night fell the lions became active and the direction of choice was straight toward the area of the cub of the Matshipiri female.  They did not have to go far before they spotted the leopard cub… The two sub adult females from the pride raced in toward the leopard. Our anxiety was quickly overcome when the leopard leaped up into one of her trees nearby. After all, she did have plenty of practise throughout the day and the task of evading the lions was an easy one. Unfortunately for the leopard, one of the grown lionesses was onto her duiker which she finished in quick time. This is probably not the first time that the leopard has had to deal with lions, nor will it be her last and she did well to avoid any drama on this occasion.

The two cheetah brothers noticing some kudu in the distance - Gary Hill

The two cheetah brothers noticing some kudu in the distance - Gary Hill

A big stretch typical of cats before they become active (just before the failed kudu hunt attempt) - Gary Hill

A big stretch typical of cats before they become active (just before the failed kudu hunt attempt) - Gary Hill

The two cheetah brothers were also found on the same morning, and in close proximity to where the lion and leopard action was going on! We found the pair on Rhino Walk, and we watched as they scaled consecutive termite mounds, scanning for prey. Eventually they were in luck. They spotted a group of kudu moving about in the distance. The brothers moved themselves into good position and waited on the edge of the bushline for the opportune moment. Unfortunately there were only adult kudus among the group, and the cheetah were being overly ambitious in their approach. A cheetah is no match for a fully-grown kudu and after a small chase, the kudu made an easy getaway. During that morning they also made an attempt at a steenbok, which also manage to escape. In the afternoon we found the brothers again and they had moved some distance from where they were left a few hours earlier. They were still on the hunt and we watched as they made some dismal efforts at hunting some impala. The hunting conditions were not ideal for the cheetah. The bushwillow thickets can be a set-back to their hunting ability, which usually relies on more open terrain where they can unleash their top speeds and gain full advantage over prey.

The MalaMala Ranger Team.

PLEASE NOTE: Animals on MalaMala are named after their territories. This means that a) only the predators have been given names and b) we only know the animals according to the names we have given them, as they are based on the territories within MalaMala’s boundaries.

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