We ventured off road after spotting some cat tracks, and headed slowly towards a large sausage tree about a hundred metres away. Just short of the tree we stopped, scanned around, and noticed the dappled rosettes of a leopard resting in the shade beneath a fever berry tree. We approached and parked in full view of her as she panted, trying to keep herself cool in the midday heat and digest a recent impala kill that we later found wedged in the tree. As it was midday and extremely hot, we knew she wasn’t going to be moving around much. The amount of tracks on the ground suggested she wasn’t alone – in fact, she had two sub-adult cubs about 14 months old – obviously nearby, but out of view. After watching her for a while, we left her to rest, and planned our return later, once the heat of the day had abated.

Upon our return, we found her in much the same position. A short while later, we picked up movements to our left, and the first of the two cubs emerged from a dense stand of vegetation. Soon after, the second cub appeared. We skirted around the bush to within a few metres of them, and they stretched out on the cool sand to begin their afternoon grooming session. Not long afterwards, the male cub headed towards the tree where a carcass of an impala ram was firmly wedged by the head in the fork of the main trunk, hanging down towards the ground. This posed a slight problem for the young male, and we watched as he shifted his position repeatedly, trying to claw the head into a more accessible spot. He scrambled up and down the tree with a slightly frustrated expression on his face as he tried to work out how to free the carcass and get at the remaining meat.

All of this took place in perfect afternoon light – from a photographic perspective we could not have asked for better. Later, he dropped back down to the ground and spent some more time with his mother as she continued to groom him. Then he darted off into the higher branches of a fallen tree to chase a young tree squirrel, which just managed to make a speedy escape.

Now it was the female cub’s turn to try her luck, and once again we had incredible views of her in perfect light as she attempted to reposition the carcass. At times her feet straddled the arch of the tree directly above the ram’s horns, dangerously close to the sharp points – of course, this was all in a day’s work for her, and no injuries were sustained. We left them shortly after she abandoned the carcass to join her mother in the shade for a bit more grooming, before heading off to a nearby waterhole.

A sighting like this is a huge reward for spending long hours out in the bush, often during the extreme heat of the middle of the day, and we knew how fortunate we were to have spent quality time within metres of these magnificent cats as they carried on with their lives, seemingly oblivious to our presence.