What a privilege it has been to watch this young female leopard develop from a shy cub to a now-confident and playful youngster. I feel very lucky to have experienced it.
The first time I saw her she was about four months old, and her mother had killed a cane rat close to our old airstrip. She had a brother at the time, but he was unfortunately killed not long after this sighting (we think by another rogue male leopard seen in the area). I had a film crew with me, and we sat with these leopards for about three hours. I still remember how I felt when I first set eyes on the cubs. My heart melted, and I was utterly captivated by their every move. The young female stalked some spurfowl, her inner huntress evident at such a young age. She stalked the bird with poise and intent, and got fairly close before it flew off. She was already accustomed to our vehicle in the presence of her mother, and she continued to wrestle with her brother for the rest of the morning. It was an incredible sighting that I will never forget.
It wasn’t until two months later that I got to see her again. This time she was on her own and appeared slightly more vulnerable. Maybe she had begun to realise that life as a young leopard was not all about joy and play, and that in order for her to survive in this harsh land, she had to deploy every ounce of stealth and vigilance passed down from the generations of successful leopards that came before her. As she waited in some thick shrub for her mother to return, we left her on her own. A couple of days later, we found an impala carcass in a jacketplum tree close to our western break. There was no sign of any leopards in the area, just of their tracks leading back west. We presumed that the Tamboti Female might be fetching her cub, and bringing her to the kill. Our speculations were spot on, and when we returned later that evening we found the two leopards feeding off the carcass together.
As the months passed we began to view these two beautiful cats on a more regular basis as they spent more time along the Sand River between the two MalaMala camps. The Tamboti Female was thriving as a mother, frequently providing meals for her fast-developing cub. We found her numerous times in the following months with kills all along the western bank. She even managed to fit in some pseudo-mating with the Princess Alice Pans Male and Newington Male leopards at the same time!
As the cub edged closer to a year old, her phase of exploration became evident and she was found on her own several times. Now completely accustomed to our vehicles, we could follow her as she ventured through her mother’s territory. It was always a treat watching mother and cub re-unite, the affection between the two always moving.
The most recent sighting I had of the two leopards was one of my best leopard sightings to date. We found the cub in a tree with her mother close by. She had killed a young waterbuck. The curious cub clearly wanted to know more about our large mobile animals-on-wheels, and came and sat about a foot from my open door. I could almost see my reflection in her eyes as she stared right back at me. She sat like that for about five minutes, but for me it felt like an hour. How I would love to know what was going through her young mind. Eventually she moved off to enjoy a spot of grooming from her mother, and I was able to relax from my frozen pose.
So what does the future hold for this magnificent cub? Well, for now she will remain with her mother and learn what she needs to survive before she becomes independent and nomadic.
I sincerely hope to see her regularly here on MalaMala, as she has captured a very special place in my heart.