What makes for a memorable sighting? Is it seeing an elephant with massive tusks; perhaps seeing a lioness with her cubs; or watching a leopard sprawled lazily on a branch? It could simply be that you’re out in the bush in the early evening and seeing the most stunning sunset and feeling grateful to be alive.
As a guide, I have been asked many times as to what my favourite sighting is. It is very difficult to single out one special one, as there have been so many. I have been fortunate enough to see many, many glorious ones and each time I say, “This must be the best sighting!“ It somehow gets surpassed by another great one. Every sighting is different and plays out differently. Simply put – my list is very long. I have chosen one or two great sightings to share with you.
Being a guide, I have seen numerous leopards but never been lucky enough to be able to see any leopard cubs, until I came to work at Sabi Sabi. It is truly cuteness’s itself, seeing a little blue-eyed ball of fur bounding about and playing with mom, while mom tries to get some rest or groom herself. Even when walking with a little playful youngster, mom must be careful that she doesn’t step on the tiny cub.
During two different sightings of this female leopard Kigelia, she had had two different litters, one as playful as the others before. Fellow guides reported seeing Kigelia and her first cub in the far north-western sector of the reserve where she had her den site among a group of large boulders, which served as a protection barrier against other predators. At the time I had guests that really wanted to see their first leopard cub, and this was an opportunity for them to see something that is rarely seen.
We set off one morning and proceeded to follow up in the area where my colleagues had found the Kigelia female and her cub the night before. As we circled the massive boulders, we did not expect to see her on a big rock in the middle of the huge boulders. There was no sign of the cub. We waited patiently and watched her as she scanned the area for any danger. When she felt comfortable, she chuffed (a soft leopard call) once or twice and from behind her, this little face with its blue eyes popped up to see what was happening. It was so small and so cute. As it got more daring, it started to play with mom, licking her trying to jump on her back and onto her head. At one stage it got curious about the vehicle, for we had been quietly watching them, and it slowly walked toward us before deciding to scamper back to the safety of mom. We enjoyed our moment with the Kigelia female and her cub, for after a while they moved off and we decided to do the same. We all knew we had an amazing and special sighting of a leopard and her cub.
In a more recent sighting of the Kigelia female and her second cub, she was found in the more central parts of the reserve. I had guests that really wanted to see a leopard but what followed was something we did not imagine could’ve happened.
We left early one morning and were in search of a leopard, but little did we know that we were going to see not only one but two leopards! We found the Kigelia on the banks of a dry riverbed and as we watched her, something caught our eyes as it scurried through the bush on the opposite bank. It was the little cub! We positioned the vehicle so that we could see if they would walk in the riverbed and as luck would have it, they did but not for long. They crossed over on to the other side and proceeded to move swiftly through the long grass, the grass covering the cub pretty much entirely. We watched as they walked toward a thicker, more shrub-like area and then, out of the blue, the cub ran one way and mom ran the other! Trying to see what was happening, we followed the mother and found she had been lucky enough to stumble upon an unsuspecting Duiker, who would make a good meal for her and her cub. After mom had hoisted it up a tree, she came down and cleaned herself. The cub got curious and shimmied up the tree to see what mom had caught. It sniffed the Duiker, nibbled a bit and then descended to mom’s side. We left them when they moved into the longer grass to rest.
My first leopard cub sighting is one I will never forget. It was from a leopard called the Scotia female. She had given birth to a female cub that she had hidden quite well in the beginning when it was tiny. As the cub grew, there were more frequent sightings of Scotia, but I still hadn’t managed to see her. One of my colleagues found her in a small dry riverbed – with her cub – just resting. I drove slowly towards the sighting and as I approached her, I saw this cute little brownish-yellow ball of fur moving around mom’s legs and chasing her tail. I turned the vehicle off, and my guests and I just sat and watched. I looked around and saw my guests were speechless too. Some watching and taking a few pictures, and others were just in awe of the sight in front of them. It is in times like these that we don’t need to talk, all we need to do is appreciate what nature puts in front of us. Quite some time passed before anyone spoke. We couldn’t take our eyes off this little leopard cub as it played and jumped and annoyed mom as she tried to rest. This was my first and my best leopard sighting as it was a sighting that wasn’t over quickly as they often are. They were so relaxed that I didn’t think it was real.
Hopefully, I will be able to see more little leopard cubs, but if not, that is fine too, as I have had some superb sightings – more than I could have ever imagined. I feel blessed and eternally grateful to have been able to have these experiences.