Written by: Clement Kigaru
Leopards are elusive, solitary and largely nocturnal. The leopard owes its huge hunting success to its well camouflaged fur, exceptional vision and hearing, good sense of smell, opportunistic hunting behaviour and broad diet. In addition the leopard’s strength to move heavy carcasses into trees and their ability to adapt to various habitats make this cat extremely successful through most of Africa and even in Asia.
Today I will tell the story about one specific leopard that we nicknamed Lorain. She is about seven years old and lives in the Maasai Mara, Kenya.
It’s a rarity to find a leopard and her cub as they normally hide in thickets, caves or holes on the ground. But on this occasion, actually my first day of my seven day trip, Lorain was on a small anthill just relaxing and playing with her two month old beautiful cub. It was a sight for sore eyes and a great opportunity for photography!
The cub would jump up and down on her mum, you could even see her predator instincts kick in too as she would try and perform the ‘kill bite’ on her mama in the cutest way imaginable. I spent almost two hours there, in awe of the playful cub, until there was no more light left – photographically speaking.
If you have watched how a leopard or any big cat behaves around their young one, you will agree with me that its the strongest bond you will ever witness – an unbreakable bond. A bond that will push their mothers to fight bigger predators to protect their offspring, even to their own death.
Mortality of leopard cubs is estimated at 40-50% during the first year. Something as natural as one day’s heavy downpour, an overflowing river, a hyena passing by or a lion patrolling his territory, poses a fatal risk for a young cub left alone while the mother goes out to hunt. That said, I was happy to see that Lorain had been able to protect her cub for over two months. It would be just one more month before the leopard cub would begin to follow her mothers on hunts. That would mean Lorain would be able to train her young one and keep her even safer.
A few days after I took these photographs, Lorain’s cub went missing. No one knew what had happened to the cub and for days Lorain went on a desperate search. For a month or so we all thought the cub had died. It was with huge relief when my friend from Maasai Mara called me and told me that he had spotted Lorain and her cub. The best friends are still together and their bond is stronger than ever.