‘You can make your approach’ said the call that came in over the radio as we waited patiently to get in to see Mahlathini and Little Bush mating. The excitement started to course through my veins. The guests were oblivious to the amazing spectacle that they were about to witness, or so I thought. Little did I know that I was also in for a surprise . . .
By the time we neared the sighting spot, the two leopards disappeared into some incredibly thick bush along the river. I asked what my best approach was and was told that I should try get down into the river. I slipped my Land Rover into low range and made my way down the steep embankment into the riverbed. As I steered us toward the leopards, all chaos started to break loose. Mahlathini and Little Bush had stumbled upon Warthog Wallow and her leopard cub with a baboon kill.
Mahlathini immediately claimed the kill for himself and dragged the remains across the river to go feed in peace. Warthog Wallow shepherded her cub to safety before returning to the scene to see if there was anything left for her. The only thing she found was Little Bush who was scent marking and calling. The two females growled at one another, both salivating heavily. I was not sure if this was going to end well and the two would just go their separate ways, leaving the leopard cub out of the fray.
Little Bush backed down and moved away from Warthog Wallow who was now calling for her cub, but the cub was frozen, hiding from danger. Little Bush moved closer and closer to the cubs hiding spot. Suddenly the cub launched itself up a thin tree hoping that it could flee the danger. Little Bush didn’t even flinch as the tiny leopard cub moved up the tree. She completely ignored it and carried on marking and calling as she went in search of her lover, Mahlathini.
I was completely blown away that none of the aggression shown by Little Bush to Warthog Wallow was transferred to the cub. It was almost as if the soft calls from Warthog Wallow had diffused the situation. Perhaps she was explaining that she wasn’t trying to steal her man. The cub watched the intruder move off into the distance before deciding to reunite itself with its mother. They lay 20 metres from us as Warthog Wallow groomed and played with her cub. They both stopped intermittently to listen to the rustle of the bush as a hyena came to investigate the ruckus.
The immense emotion that was experienced during this sighting was pouring out of me as I sat, dumbstruck, staring at mother and cub going about their normal everyday routine with absolutely no interest in us. The little cub was relaxed, took its cue from its mother and didn’t spare a look our way. What a fabulous day. What an amazing privilege. Thirty minutes later they both melted away into the thick undergrowth. We took our leave and went off to enjoy a refreshing sundowner.
I am very fortunate to be able to view leopards that are very relaxed and due to their territorial nature I see a number of different individuals on a daily basis. For research purposes each of the individual cats are named based on territory or specific features such as scars or attitude. Shangaan names or areas are used as names to avoid people thinking that they are pets because these are still wild animals.
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