Saturday, 5 June 2010

Death of a Leopard Cub!

Not too sure how to start this, never good with these kind of things. Again this occurred the day before going on leave, so it all took place a little under two weeks ago. After a relatively quite morning by our standards we were heading back to camp after seeing the White Lions, when we spotted Rockfig Jnr and cub alongside the road not five minutes away. Amazing how quickly a morning can turn around. What was disturbing about this sighting was that there was only one cub not two! Mom seemed very relaxed next to the vehicle but the cub was somewhat nervous and shied away from us, continually moving away. This would trigger mom to give chase and when she caught up they would ruff and tumble playfully together, but as we would approach the cub would again be off.

From the mom’s reaction she also found this quite peculiar and had this look about her that said, "why are you being so bashful, you’ve encountered many a big green machine". So trying to keep up as they playfully engaged us in a game of hide and seek my mind was going a million to one! What had happened to the other cub? Where was he? Had he been left behind? Is he somewhere around that we can’t see him? I started to doubt myself, so I contacted one of the other stations to confirm that on the previous day we had in fact seen both cubs and Rockfig Jnr at the impala kill, which they dually confirmed. So again, what had happened to him overnight, was he still at the impala carcass? Did he have a run in with hyenas? WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM!

During all of this certain peculiarities started to become evident. Rockfig Jnr was looking a little thin and small for a leopard that had just finished off an impala, and the cub was somewhat smaller and fluffier. I brushed these signs aside, still wondering what had become of the little male, and why was it that when I find a leopard they are always highly mobile, but with others they seem to lie down next to the vehicle. Eventually we caught up to them, where mom was cleaning herself in winters warm morning glow and the cub was hiding in amongst fallen branches on a termite mound, just my luck! After spending some time with them and announcing our find to everyone, many stations where keen to respond. I guess to confirm the bad news for themselves. By this stage we were also very close to the White Lion sighting. So with a very heavy heart I pulled out of the sighting to leave Rockfig Jnr and her cub to mourn their loss, and for Jacky and myself to try figure out what had happened.

As we made our way back to camp, things seemed to be getting worse for Rockfig Jnr, as she had got mobile again straight in the direction of the White Lions that were sleeping in amongst some thick Mopani, and quite difficult to see. Luckily as she approached the lions, she got wind of them and started to move off in the opposite direction, but this was not before one of the large lionesses gave chase. All of this unfolded for us over the radio as the guides on the scene kept us informed, there was an uncomfortable silence after the chase as we all awaited the outcome. Hearing that she had got away brought about a sigh of relief that could be felt across the reserve. Although they had now lost visual of her and could not relocate, the lioness had returned to her lazing in the sun.

Shortly after the near tragedy I contacted Herald to confirm that Rockfig Jnr had indeed got away. This is the moment when I received the best news of the year, Herald informed me that it was not Rockfig Jnr but instead, Ntombi, and she had indeed got away! Suddenly things all fell into place, the size of both mom and cub, as well as the shyness of the youngster. The guys have seen Ntombi and her cubs before when she had them stashed away in a very rocky and inaccessible spot, but not out and about in the open. It was thought that she had two cubs but being so well hidden nobody was ever sure.

So, I had misidentified them, effectively killing off Rockfig Jnrs cub. On arriving back at camp I immediately contacted the other camps that had heard me announce the "effective death", to let them know the good news and that I was a "Mampara!" ( Idiot) Humble pie never tasted so good!


  1. Shoei, i was horrified when i read the title of this blog update!Was a bit hesitant to read further, but gald that you were wrong for once and had rather found a new mampiempan to add to the growing population of the leopards in the Timbavati, rather than killing them off!

  2. What a dramatic story with a happy end!
    I've posted some videos on Youtube.

    Rockfig Jr and one of the cubs with the impala kill:

    A lovely moment of the lions:

    The silly baby elephant:

    And the giraffe family:

  3. That was scary – I thought you were going to show us the body of the leopard cub. It’s great that it was not the right leopard mom. I don’t know how you can recognize them myself, when you cannot get too close to them.