On the 5 November 2009 I was on a game drive out of Savuti camp when we got called to a sighting of leopards mating. We don’t see this happening that often, and what was even more unusual was that the pair of leopards were in an open area, which meant we could see the happenings. The male leopard was the dominant male in the area, known as the Dumatau male. He is well known to us as he has been in the area for about 4 years. We spent perhaps 45 minutes with the leopard before it got too dark to see.
As we drove away I wondered to myself what would happen with the female, and if the mating would be successful. As I only spend about four days a month at Savuti camp, and don’t get to see leopards on every visit, I didn’t think I would have much chance of finding out anytime soon.
As it turned out, I found myself back at Savuti early in March this year. On our first morning game drive we found a female leopard, almost hidden in the tall vegetation, thanks to a great spot by one of my guests. We noticed that she was carrying something small in her mouth. I parked ahead of the leopard, and in such a way that she would pass by us in a small clearing, and waited. As she came into the open we saw what she was carrying. It was the smallest leopard cub I had ever seen. The cub was so small that its eyes weren’t even open yet. The mother leopard kept moving and was soon lost to our sight, as she made her way into the dense woodland nearby. As the leopard was clearly trying not to be noticed, we made no effort to follow her. We just sat there for a long time, thinking about what we had just seen. There was something very intimate about the sighting, of witnessing that incredible bond that exists between mothers and newborn young.
Later, back in camp, I compared the spot patterns of the mating female leopard that I had photographed three months ago, and they matched perfectly with the leopard carrying the cub. Leopards have a gestation period of around 100 days, which would have meant that the tiny cub that we had seen was just some days old, which was just how it looked.
The mother leopard was probably carrying the cub to a new hiding place when we crossed paths with her. Baby leopards are quite vulnerable at this early age, and the mothers usually hide them in hollow trees, *or* even in fallen logs.
I couldn’t stop thinking just how lucky I had been, with the first sighting of the mating, and then seeing the newborn cub. I am hoping that both the leopards keep on surviving, and that my good luck holds too, and I get to see the cub again sometime in the months to come.