Written by: Ed Aylmer
I recently had the privilege of joining a group of wildlife photographers on a 5 day trip to Chiefs Camp which is situated on a private concession area within the Moremi Game Reserve in the renowned Okavango Delta in Botswana.
It was during this trip that I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to follow and photograph the daily activities of a female leopard and her two cubs.
The first encounter we had with the leopard was in the late afternoon of the first day of our visit. We came across the female who was preening her two cubs and watching them play within a few meters of our vehicle.
After a while she started to move into denser bush with the cubs following closely behind. As she focussed on something in the distance, we realised that she was preparing for a hunt. We followed her stare and saw a herd of impala with young lambs about 100 metres away.
We expected the build up to the charge to take some time, however when the mother leopard had locked onto her target- a baby impala, she burst into action with a 30 meter run and pulled the young impala to the ground with a vice-like grip to the neck. She dragged the carcass to a nearby tree which she climbed and wedged her kill into the lower branches. The cubs arrived and walked around the base of the tree trying figure the best way up.
One of the cubs appeared a lot more confident and climbed to where the impala was and started to play with it. Eventually the carcass fell to the ground. The cub clumsily climbed down after it and for about an hour pretended it was attacking the impala by jumping on it and grabbing it around the throat.
The second cub who had been observing the action from ground level, didn’t move to the carcass but was instead content to play on an old log a few meters away.
After exercising its authority over the impala, the first cub started to chew the head area and penetrated the skin by breaking into the eye socket.
The female leopard had, up to then, made no attempt to feed on the impala as if resigned to the fact that the kill was to be a training lesson for the cubs.
When the female eventually moved towards the carcass for a bite to eat, she was greeted by a hissing and snarling, blood stained cub. The female leopard rewarded the cubs misbehaviour with a swipe of her paw.
The cub, however, ignored this and continued its feeding frenzy. The female walked back to where the second cub was playing and showered it with affection, almost re-assuring it that its chance to feed would eventually come.
We were all spell bound by what we had witnessed and thousands of photographs later, as darkness settled, we headed back to camp.