As we all know, a leopard mother raising cubs in the wild faces an incredibly challenging task. With high competition from other female leopards vying for their own territory, the landscape for raising cubs is anything but easy. In recent weeks, we’ve been fortunate to witness a remarkable amount of leopard cub activity. When we venture into the southeastern parts of Sparta, we often find fresh leopard tracks, leading us to either the Nkoveni Female and her three cubs or the Ximungwe Female and her two cubs. It’s truly a privilege to witness these sightings.

One of the Ximungwe Female Cubs enjoys some tender lover and care from its mother.

Ximungwe +2 Moving Den 2

The fateful day when we found her moving her two cubs north for the very first time.

Although we’ve had many high-quality encounters with the Ximungwe Female and her cubs, we’ve also noticed her unusual behaviour. She recently moved her cubs to a new den far north from their previous location, an abrupt shift that raises questions about her motives. Moving her cubs two kilometres away and showing signs of agitation suggest she may have perceived a threat in the original area. She could have quite possibly had three cubs to begin with and having lost one prompted this move. We are not sure, this is just speculation.

Since moving the den, the Ximungwe Female and her cubs have become easier to find. We often encounter them during game drives, sometimes in the Maxabene Riverbed or nearby thickets, and lately with the cubs now eating meat they have been found around several carcasses in her territory. However, leading her cubs to carcasses carries significant risks, such as attracting scavenging hyenas or encountering a young nomadic male leopard. These threats are especially dangerous when the cubs are out in the open with no sanctuary to retreat to.

Ximungwe Cub Walking

While leading a cub to a carcass the mother is is often highly alert expecting danger to be around every corner.

To mitigate these risks, the mother leopard tends to move her cubs during daylight hours when most nocturnal predators are resting. Often choosing to do this swiftly with very little delay and sometimes even moving one cub at a time as Barry speaks about here. At carcass sites, there can be some safety for the cubs, such as climbing into trees to escape the reach of hyenas and spot potential danger. Nevertheless, staying near a carcass comes with its own set of risks. Many of them are associated with other predators being drawn in by the scent of the blood and carcasses being carried by the wind.

Given our frequent sightings of the Ximungwe Female, we were surprised when she wasn’t seen for almost a week. We still found tracks of her in the usual area, but her presence became increasingly elusive. While we continued to find tracks of at least one and at times we thought possibly two cubs, however, this was difficult to tell and it was challenging to determine their exact whereabouts.

Ke Ximungwe Female Looking Up

Eventually, we found her.

Eventually, we found the Ximungwe Female with a carcass, but only one cub was present. This discovery raises concerns about the other cub’s fate, adding to the tension and uncertainty surrounding this leopard family’s future. We hope that the second cub turns up soon and we will keep a very close eye out going forward.

NT_Ximungwe Female grooming cub

Sean Zeederberg

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