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Klaserie Sands River Camp

Defense mechanisms

One day we were watching a female leopard near Chitabe Camp, in the Okavango Delta. The leopard had two very young cubs, perhaps just a couple of months old.

Leopard Cub Leopard Cub

She had killed an impala, and dragged it quite a distance to bring it to where her cubs were hidden.  In this place were quite a number of fallen tree stumps lying about, and long, dry yellow grass, as well as a good number of dead trees that were still standing.  There were also a few dry and scrubby acacias trees, none of which stood any taller than perhaps two metres.

The mother leopard was asleep, and the two cubs were playing close by.  Suddenly, the leopard sat straight up, totally alert.  It took long seconds before we heard what had interested her.  There were squirrels and francolins making alarm calls, and not too far away.  The leopard knew that this meant another predator was approaching her and her cubs.   She instantly made off in the direction of the warning calls, keeping very low.  When we looked back on the ground, the cubs had vanished.

The next moment we understood why, as we caught a brief glimpse of a large male leopard running through the tall grass, with the female leopard in pursuit.  Birds scattered, and squirrels chattered as the two leopards chased one another about. Male leopards that are not related to cubs *or* are unfamiliar with a female can be a danger to cubs, so it was not surprising that the female attempted to divert the males attention in this way.

We decided to move off a little distance, and not risk playing any part in attracting the male’s attention to where we had last seen the cubs.  It was while we were looking about trying to spot the adult leopards  that we accidentally found the cub’s new hiding place.  They had both clambered up, and right into a half-grown umbrella -thorn acacia tree. Until these acacias get several metres high, they tend to protect their valuable leaves from browsers by growing in a tangled mass of thorn-covered branches.

How the leopard cubs were able to move about within the tangle of branches without impaling themselves was quite amazing to us. The hiding place was certainly effective, *or* so it seemed. We waited until the cubs had decided that it was safe to descend before moving closer to try and photograph them.  They took great care in extracting themselves from the tree, and appeared to not get harmed at all.

It was an interesting sighting of the young mammals taking advantage of the trees physical defences, and putting them to use for their own safety.

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I am a South African who grew up in the former Transkei, (now the Eastern Cape) and I spent much of my time along the Wild Coast. For over ten years I have been working as a guide in northern Botswana, for a company called Wilderness Safaris. I spend many days of each year leading photographic safari trips with small groups of people through our fixed camps in the Kalahari, Okavango, Linyanti and Savuti regions, mostly. My special interests are birds, lions and photography, in no special order. When I am not guiding in the field, I take part in some of our companies environmental projects. Botswana is a country with a solid conservation ethic, and I am fortunate to be able to share some of what I do and see by means of my writing and my images. Visit my photography page