It is always a special seeing a leopard, the secretive spotted cat of the African bushveld, it gets every ranger’s heart going. As rangers we are spoilt enough to see these amazing animals more than most but seeing an individual that you have never seen before is something out of the ordinary.
We were on our way to an area where the Nottins female had just moved off of an impala kill after losing it to a hyena. She was moving quickly and we were really trying hard to catch up to the other vehicle working their way through the bush. We got the call that she had just bumped into another hyena and we finally had a chance lay our eyes on her. It was great to see her again after more than a month, basically disappearing, which is a long gap for a leopard we consider territorially resident.
Movement caught my tracker’s eye. Eric pointed and before any of us had time to turn our heads the word “leopard” had flown out of his mouth and flooded our ears, his hand signals were less than subtle in getting me moving. We needed to do some serious catching up before the 2nd leopard melted into the bush. By the time we got there the Nottins female and the other vehicle were on their way towards us. The new leopard slipped behind a termite mound. After repositioning the vehicle we finally got a good look at the other female.
As we rounded the mound we discovered the female with a motionless Banded Mongoose in her jaws, clearly an experienced huntress, we didn’t hear a thing. This was a leopard I was not familiar with but something even more unfamiliar was the calm atmosphere between the two female leopards. Who was this other female and why was the Nottins female not reacting?
The unfamiliar female was quite thin and appeared to be very old, her coat was very pale and she was in need of a meal. She lay with the mongoose in her jaws and her eyes fixed on the Nottins female. After a lengthy stand-off it seemed as if some silent agreement had been reached. Very slowly the older female got up and glided off the side of the termite mound into some thicker bush. Nottins female started walking and didn’t even change course as she passed the other female. We followed her and as the distance between us grew, and so did my curiosity.
After drive some investigating took place. Chatting to a few of the other rangers and trackers and looking at old photos it was established that it was the Old Nottens female, the Nottins female’s mother. The two leopards must have recognized one another and that must be where the lack of aggression came in. What a privilege to see the mother of a leopard I have been lucky enough to spend many hours with.
BY: SIMON SMIT (BUSH LODGE RANGER)
IMAGES BY: SIMON SMIT, FRANSCOIS ROSSLEE AND JOSH LEE