Leopards, as many of you will know, are the most secretive of the big cats of Africa. They’re also one of my favourite species, and are always a highlight of any safari. When tiny cubs are involved, the “wow factor” goes through the roof. Arriving in this region of the northern Serengeti, we discovered that a female leopard and her two cubs had been seen in the area, and planned our first game drive accordingly to search for them.

We left the lodge and headed out along the spine of a hill before heading off the track in the direction that the female had last been seen. Carefully negotiating the granite boulders jutting out of the tall elephant grass, we positioned our vehicle as best we could to search the surrounding trees, rocks and termite mounds for any evidence of them. Suddenly, just off to our right, a slight stirring caught our attention – it was the female leopard pushing stealthily through the undergrowth that towered overhead.

From her movements it was clear to see that she was hoping to flush a small antelope, such as an oribi or duiker, from the grass. A bit of luck for us – and the leopard – in the shape of a bustard (large game bird) took to the sky in front of our vehicle and gradually traced back to where she was heading. The outcome was inevitable and the instant the bird landed, she was ready to pounce. Realising its mistake, the bustard took off vertically and almost escaped, but luck remained on the leopard’s side and she plucked it out of the air in an astonishing feat of agility, leaping straight up to a height of almost two metres.

We watched as she made short work of the carcass. Satisfied, she moved towards a large tree and in one fluid movement, settled comfortably in its fork several metres above the ground. She stared out across the valley for a while as we remained close by, and after a while she bounded gracefully back to earth to vanish in the thick grass once more. We decided at this point to go in search of her cubs.

Edging around a granite hill, we approached the spot where they’d last been seen, and scanned all the likely areas. A gentle movement caught our eye, and we were treated to a sighting of two 5-week old cubs, right in front of us! They soon relaxed and played like typical kittens, stalking, pouncing and rolling, all within safe distance of their den concealed in the small dark cracks and caves behind. We were lucky to have two further sightings of them the next day too. True to form, the mother then relocated her cubs to a new den site where she would keep them hidden for a few more days, allowing their scent to build up before moving yet again. This process is repeated in order to outwit other predators which might otherwise discover and kill them.

Exposing cubs to our presence in this responsible manner ensures that they will grow up to respect game viewing vehicles, without fearing them. In turn this will give future safari goers countless hours of pleasure, bringing guests back year after year. Encounters like this provide the best way of preserving these wild areas for years to come.