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Africa Geographic
Wildlife . People . Travel

Mother leopards

Spare a thought for female leopards, and some of the challenges they face in their lives. Leopards are for much of their lives, solitary creatures. Adult male leopards only spend brief periods socializing with females living in their territories. It usually happens when there is a mating bout, and it also happens that they will come together at a large food source. Males will also steal food from females. Very occasionally males will spend a few hours with a known female, just in passing, to use a human term.

GA Mother Leopards

So for much of the time, females are quite happy to be living apart from their territorial male. However, successful female leopards spend a very large percentage of their time raising cubs.

For a solitary creature, this brings with it a whole new series of challenges. When the cubs are very small, the leopard has to keep them hidden in a den, and she is forced to live and hunt in a smaller area than normal. If she is sharing habitat with lions and hyaenas, this can become quite dangerous, both for the cubs and the mother. The longer the leopard and cubs are in one area, the more likely their hiding place will be discovered. Both lions and hyaenas are a danger to leopard cubs.

As the cubs get older, and mobile, they will start to move with her. This lessens the danger somewhat. However, growing cubs eat more and more the bigger they get, and the female leopard ends up having to kill sometimes twice as much, *or* more, than what she would need for herself. Hunting is a dangerous activity for a leopard. Not only can the leopard herself become injured whilst subduing her prey, but hyaenas and lions are often attracted to the sounds of other carnivores capturing prey.

Despite all these hardships and risks, female leopards do a pretty good job of raising cubs. The young leopards are not always eager to leave and begin life on their own though, and the images attached to this post are of a female leopard that is seen close to Savuti camp, in northern Botswana. The male that is with her is her almost fully-grown son. I managed to photograph them during a moment of rest for the two of them, right after they had consumed an impala, killed by the female. First the young male lay on top of his mother, then he kept her from sleeping by nudging and pushing, until eventually she moved to another branch.

GA Mother Leopards

The pictures are a year and a half old, and the young male left his mother shortly after this. Although we will never know what a leopard thinks, I can’t help imaging that she was both proud and relieved, at least until the next cubs came along.


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