It has now been six months since we started working to familiarise a female leopard and her three cubs with game drive vehicles in the Marakele National Park. All three cubs are still alive and doing well – their mother has done a fantastic job in rearing, feeding and protecting them.
I have been fortunate to have spent a great deal of time with them and have watched the cubs grow and develop unique personalities. The female used a handful of den sites and the cubs would frequently be hidden in separate hiding places often several hundred metres apart from one another. I can only assume this was a protection technique on the mother’s part.
The cubs are now estimated to be around eight months old and their mother works hard to keep them fed as they are not quite old enough yet to hunt animals of a significant size.
One morning I was watching one of the cubs in a large camel thorn tree. One of the young males was sleeping on one of the main branches. A male lion roared close by and the little leopard lifted his head and I froze.
Within no time, the lion was in sight beneath the camel thorn! I held my breath. The young leopard lay motionless watching the larger cat walk beneath. As the lion approached another camel thorn tree, two leopards shot up it. It was the mother and the other young male. But where was the female cub?
I dared not move my car as I did not want to influence the behaviour of any of the cats. After a lengthy ten minutes the lion moved on and could be heard roaring further away. Down the road the little female popped out of an old aardvark burrow. Phew!
The young male in the tree near me grew more confident with each distant roar of the lion and began to walk across the branches towards me.
He then proceeded to lie on a branch directly above my cruiser and stare down at me.
As my camera flashed with a low battery warning, I realised that sometimes it is important just to appreciate the moment. This was one of those moments. I pushed my seat back and stared up at the young sleeping prince.