A weekend of new introductions

By Chad Cocking

One of the greatest things about working in a large open system like the Greater Kruger, is that you just don’t know what to expect. You can wake up every day and head out into the bush, and truly have no idea what you are going to see.

A few months ago, this was exemplified when the guides got a wonderful surprise upon finding the resident Thumbela female leopard to the east of Tanda Tula Safari Camp, and they discovered that she had two cubs with her! The surprise, however, was not so much in finding out that she had cubs, but that these cubs were about eight months old already and no one had even had the slightest inkling that she had been pregnant, let alone had cubs and raised them completely out of our view.

The guides and trackers were all naturally filled with excitement at the prospect of watching this leopard raise some more cubs, but as the weeks went by without seeing them, the excitement slowly began to fade. At the beginning of April, we fortunately had a couple of sightings of the then ten month old cubs, but once more, following their brief appearances, they disappeared again.

And then, this past weekend, whilst enjoying some quiet time at Machaton Dam, alarm calling from some vervet monkeys alerted Civilized to the presence of a nearby predator. Upon investigating, he located the Thumbela female...her son...and her daughter! I was watching some ostriches not too far away, so made my way to join Civilized as Thumbela led the cubs through some thickets,  clearly intent on getting somewhere.

As we arrived in the area we were met by about sixty odd impalas, all shouting at a nervous-looking leopard who was not so pleased to have had his cover blown! This turned out to be my first view of Thumbela’s son, and with a herd of impalas in tow, he moved off to go and join his sister as his mom ran around looking for them. 

Eventually a call from mom brought all three leopards together, and once reunited they moved off to the west, giving us an amazing show of feline interaction as they went, the cubs no doubt fully aware that mom was taking them back to a kill. They crossed out of view as they moved through the thickets on the bank of the Machaton river, but luckily Luke picked them up on the other side and had a great view of Thumbela and her cubs.

Despite being unable to follow through a dense thicket, the trio of leopards were later relocated with a large male impala kill that kept them in the area for the whole day. Sadly the hyenas stole the kill during the night, but in the morning, Glen managed to track Thumbela and the daughter down, and we spent a wonderful hour with them before they settled down to rest.

As if being properly introduced to Thumbela’s cubs wasn’t enough for the weekend, we had the added bonus that our Mayumbula pride of lions also introduced their two new cubs to us! Luke had been watching three of the lionesses out in the south-eastern corner when two small cubs of around ten to twelve weeks popped out of the thickets to come and join their mom!

I decided to take a chance and head into that area the next day to see if they were still around, and got far more than I bargained for when, upon approaching one of the few remaining pans, saw the four lionesses resting fat-bellied on the edge of the pan. On getting closer, I noticed that the two little bundles of joy were also in their company! We spent the remainder of the afternoon with them as they annoyed mom and their aunts before calling it a day, the end of another wonderful Tanda Tula safari.

Now all we are waiting for is the Mbiri pride of lions to introduce their new cubs. It appears that their den site is now very close to one of the river viewpoints, so it should only be a matter of time before we get a chance to see them. Be sure to keep checking our blog for any news on these cubs!

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