the day of the leopard

Tuesday 24th of June 2014…. what a day for leopards it was!

It was a crisp winter morning and my guests were on their last drive before returning home to China. They only had time for a very short, one hour long, drive. After contemplating it for a few hours the night before we decided it would be worth a go, as we never know what we will see.

We set off late out of Earth Lodge at 7am, with the sounds of Crested Francolins, Natal Spur Fowls and a Helmeted Guinea Fowl making a racket out by Nhlumphi Dam. We weren’t expecting to see anything overly exciting on such a short drive, but overly exciting it was.

7:35am, a voice crackles over the radio…. we have a male leopard here…. a big one! After bypassing a large elephant herd shaped roadblock we made our way into the sighting. “Wow” muttered Polly, my tracker, as he turned to see my reaction. “Makhulu Madoda” (big male) were the only other two words to come out of his mouth before he gasped again and began to laugh. My guests caught the leopards shape through the dry grass. They had seen a small female leopard on this trip before, but nothing the size of this monster.

male leopard while on safari at Sabi Sabi

male leopard while on safari at Sabi Sabi

male leopard while on safari at Sabi Sabi

We spent 20 minutes with the new mystery male, who had entered another male’s territory and was possibly looking to take over. He began to walk back towards the Sabie River and Kruger National Park, with the sounds of the resident male bellowing out over the still morning air behind us. He made a few close passes by our vehicle, checking us out, before slipping into the riverbed and disappearing as mysteriously as he had appeared.

male leopard while on safari at Sabi Sabi

male leopard while on safari at Sabi Sabi

What a leopard!

male leopard while on safari at Sabi Sabi

After dropping the guests off at the airstrip I made my way back to Bush Lodge for breakfast. There was a murmur floating around the breakfast table about Little Bush female and her cubs being seen on an impala kill. Fellow guide, Kyle, and I decided to go and check them out after eating as quickly as we could. After a short twenty-minute drive we had arrived on the scene where they were last seen. Some bent grass the only signs of action in the otherwise calm and peaceful bush. As we approached the termite mound they were last seen under we spotted a hyena standing under a tree staring straight up.


As we followed her lead we found them. Little Bush fast asleep in the middle of a Weeping Boerbeen, and two cubs. The one cub was fast asleep with only a tiny section of tail visible to us. The other was feeding on the remains of an impala kill the mother had hoisted to keep safe from the hyena.

leopard cub

We sat and watched for a few hours. Even for us lucky enough to see animal’s every day, leopard cubs are something truly special, and it was the first time Kyle and I had seen these particular ones. Eventually the feeding cub stopped feeding for 2 minutes and began to wash herself. A flurry of camera shutters and the calls of some Grey Hornbills flying overhead were the only noises herd in the bush that morning. We drove back to camp for lunch with huge smiles on our faces and some special pictures in our cameras.

leopard cub

leopard cub

This one was just for us.

The day was finished off nicely with the arrival of my new guests. They had been on safari before and even lived in Africa at one point, but had never seen a leopard nicely. Well the bush provided once again with the sounds of two leopards together, a male and a female. This could only mean one thing…. leopards mating.

leopard mating

Maxabeni and White Dam female were found in the north east of the reserve. White Dam is a beautiful female, who technically doesn’t live on our property, but had recently followed Maxabeni many kilometers outside of her own territory just to mate with him.

He is a big, strong, confident leopard and she wants the best genes for her young.

As the sun started setting around us the pair mated about 10 times before we left them to some privacy.

What a day. What amazing animals.



  1. claire-m. lepage says

    What a blog! Thank you Lance Van De Vyver and Sabi Sabi Team for sharing these beautiful moments in your life.

    I’m sharing this blog onto Sabi Sands Leopard Identification if I can make it work. Your unknown big male leopard might find an ID there.

    Claire-M. Lepage from Portneuf QC Canada

  2. tim driman says

    Great story Lance and such a magnificent big boy….
    By the looks of the skin around his eyes, scars and his floppy double chin, he is in the prime or later of his life.
    I know I spend quite a lot of time in the bush, but this blogsite just sparks me up…
    Well done to you guys and Rich for this blog….It is inspirational and draws people back to Sabi-Sabi.
    Cool potatoes guys.

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