A Narrow Escape
The Northern Thornybush female leopard brought her cubs out to a kill for the first time the other day. The leopard had killed quite a large female impala earlier that morning and after following her tracks we found her and the two cubs very close up to the fresh carcase. This immediately became such a popular sighting as for many of the guides on the Thornybush reserve this would be the first that they have ever seen of these two beautiful cubs. Leopards are known to hide their cubs in den sites from birth and before she brings them out to a kill the only way you will get to see the cubs would be to find the den site but even then it become difficult to get a decent view of them.
Leopard with cubs. Photo by Christoff Uys
Leopard cubs will only eat meat from three months onwards and prior to that they will not leave the den site at all as the mother will come back and feed them milk every so often. Later that afternoon as the light was fading we closed the sighting to be sensitive towards them and give them and to give the cubs a chance to settle down. That evening at the lodge the cubs were the topic of discussion amongst all the guests as they compare and show off their photos to one another. The next morning we were greeted by a hype of excitement as guests drank their coffee as fast as they could to get out on the game drive and see if the cubs were still around. Unfortunately our excitement would not last long as we received a radio update that the lions had sniffed out the kill made by the leopard and had taken it from them. Everyone's heart just sank to the bottom of their stomach as we frantically searched for any tracks or signs that the leopards had survived. We managed to find the female not far from the lions were and found them sitting at the base of a knob thorn tree not far away from the kill, the lions seemed to be staring into the tree and to our amazement right at the very top of the tree the two cubs were sitting very still and holding on for dear life. It was such a relief knowing they were still alive but we knew we couldn't celebrate yet as the cubs would have to be disciplined enough to stay in the tree and not move as this would be the only way to survive. After being trapped in the tree for approximately sixteen hours the lions eventually gave up, got bored and moved on. The cubs were finally reunited with the female and returned back to their den site. They definitely learned a valuable lesson that day and I certainly believe this won't be the last encounter they will have with the lions, but at least we know they are capable of surviving. Predators will often kill each other due to availability and competition for a food source.
Lioness and leopard cubs. Photo by Christoff Uys