At some point in every safari there is that moment where you have seen so many incredible sightings and so you think, “what will we see next and will it come close to what we have already encountered?” Well, while having those thoughts, we received a report of a leopardess and her cubs that were seen in the northern reaches of the reserve. So of course we decided to head that way and see if we could find them…which turned out to be a good plan!

The mother and her cubs had been seen intermittently the previous few days, but it took the trackers some time on foot to pinpoint her whereabouts, which fortunately they did about an hour before sunset. The cub’s calls were heard, which gave away their position and when we approached by vehicle, we spotted the mother high in the canopy of a perfect ‘leopard tree’ alongside a termite mound. Positioning the vehicle as best we could in the tough conditions, we were treated to the sight of three young cubs. They were clambering up and down the tree, to and from a freshly killed antelope that their mother had hoisted into the crook of the tree. At just ten weeks of age, the cubs were full of energy, inquisitive and obviously very happy about what mom had brought home for dinner. They alternated between feeding on the kill and coming down the tree to suckle on their mother, who lay a few meters from where we were positioned.

At one point, the cub that was feeding on the hoisted antelope (a common duiker), bumped the carcass and it dropped to the floor. In a flash the mother was up and like lightning, quickly shot up the tree with the kill between her jaws. This sudden commotion sent the cubs on the ground in different directions, one of them climbing up a small tree right next to us, as instinctive impulses to get to safety kicked in. Whenever there is a kill around, there’s the ever present and real threat of hyena lurking, one of the cub’s biggest threats.

To be with such young cubs that were so relaxed with us being there and their mother accepting us in their space, was a real privilege that few get to experience! This is what makes time in these private reserves across Africa so rewarding, where the animals are given the respect they deserve, allowing us encounters such as these and conserving these wilderness areas for the future.