Whilst Sabi Sabi prides itself on our ability to find and view leopards in their most natural state it is still a rare sighting. Now as we hit the winter solstice and the middle of our dry season the bush is clearing out making the viewing all the better and making it a little easier to view these elusive and magnificent creatures. My goal for the afternoon safari was to find a leopard and the best way to start this process was to head to an area where the last leopard had been seen. Once in the area there are a number of things that will assist us with narrowing down our area such as finding fresh tracks or having the bush tell us where the cat is hiding or moving. Alarm calls from any of the antelope species, birds or even the territorial call of a male of a female is often the best way to narrow the search…

 

Whilst on my way down towards bush lodge where two of our other rangers were busy following up on some fresh tracks we managed to find some fresh tracks of our own. My tracker, Solly, and I jumped out of the vehicle to determine direction and then we hopped back into the vehicle and moved to the next place we should find tracks. Once we found the next tracks we followed them and then they miraculously disappeared. Again we jumped out of the vehicle checking to see where the leopard may have left the road and checking nearby game paths for any further signs to follow. The next thing we heard the rasping territorial call of a leopard and quickly made our way towards where we had heard the call. It was not long before we caught sight of the leopard just off the road. As we got closer we saw that it was a year and a half old cub and his mother was a short way away from him. Now to find one leopard is awesome the sight of two was even better.

Stopping to have a look at the youngster posing on a tree we then heard growling from the female. Immediately Solly said that there was another leopard here and we left the little guy on his perch as we went to investigate. My initial thought was that it was probably a male that had come too close to the female and she was protecting her cub but when we got there we saw that it was another female. The two ladies were having a territorial dispute and it was incredible to see this interaction. The boundary line was very clearly the road as they sat either side growling, tails twitching in irritation and periodically rasping their territorial call. Eventually to avoid confrontation the female with her cub left but not without regularly checking over her shoulder to make sure the other female was not going to make a sneak attack.

The other female followed down the road not daring to set foot in the other female’s territory and making sure that her two nemeses were moving away. She kept calling to make sure the other female knew that she had lost and to warn her against stepping over the boundary in the future. The sight of the three leopards together was so much more than I could have expected before leaving on safari and it didn’t end there…

As the female and her cub left the females irritation now turned to the ageing cub. A leopard cub will usually stay with the mother for anything between 12 to 18 months. There have however been cases where cubs were completely independent by six months and others that stayed with their mother for longer than two years. This is very much dependent on the mother and in this females case the cubs time had come. Every time he followed her or came close to her she snarled, growled and hissed at him. Eventually he got part of the message and let her walk off waiting a bit before he started following her again.

Th e separation wont be immediate but over the next few weeks he will get the message and have to look for a territory of his own.