Back in January 2016, I got my first glimpse of the Ntsumi female leopard (she was only named much later) when she was about 2 months old. In fact, it was on the 1st of January. What an incredible way to start the year! Unfortunately, the sighting didn’t last long, as mom (the Little Bush female) had led Ntsumi and her sibling into a drainage line where our vehicles could not access. Frustrating at the time, yes, but that would not be the last of them. Over the next few days, we went in pursuit of the Little Bush female and her cubs, and we were rewarded with some amazing sightings.
After a few weeks, we noticed that only one cub was seen with the Little Bush female. Ntsumi had lost her sibling to an unknown cause. The Sandriver male was seen in the area during the time, and as he had not fathered the cubs, there was a high possibility that he had killed it. With one remaining cub, Ntsumi, the Little Bush female could then focus all her efforts on one cub.
Fast forward to August of 2017, to a time when I came to Sabi Sabi to guide on a freelance basis (after leaving my full-time position in 2016), I got to see the Ntsumi female as a young independent leopard for the first time. What a special moment that was! She was posing beautifully up a Marula tree close to Bush Lodge. After spending some quality time with her, she descended the tree and quickly slinked away into the Msuthlu River and disappeared.
My next sighting of her was in September 2018, when I had been called in to guide again. I had a couple of sightings of her during this guiding stint. The standout sighting was when she was spotted with a male leopard, N’weti. She might have been seen mating before that particular time, but it was a special sighting for me as it was the first time I witnessed her mating. Well, not really, as I unfortunately only heard them mating in the tall grass and after a while saw them both lying close to each other. At the time it seemed like just yesterday when I saw her as a cub, and there she was, a mature female looking to bring her own cubs into the world.
To the present year, July 2022. Just after leaving Bush Lodge, a message came in on the radio that a female leopard was briefly seen a short drive away. I decided to move into the area and help find her with the assistance of two other safari teams. We spent well over an hour in search of her, on foot and just driving all the surrounding roads in the hope that we would pick up on fresh spoor or if we’re lucky, ‘bump’ into her walking on the road. Just as I decided to make my way out of the area to head for a sundowner, one of the vehicles that was driving behind me spotted her on the road. She was literally 100 metres behind us, on the road we had just drove! I quickly turned around and entered the sighting. And there she was, posing in the middle of the road.
After her brief walkabout on the road, she moved directly into a drainage line and into an area where we suspected that she had stashed her two cubs. After crossing the drainage line, she kept on moving until she reached a termite mound. She stopped for quite some time and was focusing into an area just around the termite mound. I decided to slowly inch forward to get a better look and stopped on the other side of the termite mound. After a quick scan, the distinct shape of a cat up a fallen tree caught my eye. Another leopard! That’s what she was looking at. And not just another leopard, her independent daughter (from a previous litter), the Golonyi female.
The standoff between the two leopards lasted a couple more minutes, until the Ntsumi female decided to make the first move. She moved slowly towards her daughter, prompting the Golonyi female to make a retreat up a nearby Knobthorn tree. The whole scene played out so quickly, and the growling by both leopards made the sighting even more intense.
The Ntsumi female ascended the fallen tree where the Golonyi female was and began to sniff the scent left behind. At this point, the Ntsumi female was not happy with her daughter roaming around the area, and the only possible explanation was that she had her cubs in the general vicinity. She was salivating profusely, while the Golonyi female sat helplessly up the tree waiting for her mom to leave. During the time, a couple of Spotted hyenas also made their way onto the scene after hearing all the commotion.
Once again, both leopards were waiting for the next to make the first move. This took a while, and the sun was starting to set by then and the moon began to rise behind the Ntsumi female as she watched her daughter from the fallen tree, which made the sighting all the more special. Shortly after this, the Golonyi female decided to slowly climb down to the fork of the tree, watched her mom for a few seconds, and made a hasteful retreat. We decided to let them be and made our way for a much-needed sundowner after an incredible sighting.
So why a “reunion with mixed reactions”? Well, if you’ve been following the dates that I mentioned, the last time I saw Ntsumi was just under 4 years ago, and so it was great to see her again. I was also glad to see the Golonyi female, as this was my first time seeing this young leopardess. Anyway, I’m pretty confident that Ntsumi didn’t care about seeing me, but she definitely wasn’t happy about her daughter making an appearance in the heart of her territory, where she may have also had her new litter hiding close by. That reunion was a bit more sour!