Has she had her cubs yet? This was the first question I asked a guide that tracked and located Marula, our female leopard, with a nyala kill last week. He said he couldn’t see, but he didn’t think she had. The fact that she had been so absent for a couple of weeks made me think otherwise, and in the days that followed it soon became apparent that she had indeed had cubs in her favoured area along the thick banks of the Zebenine riverbed in the west of our concession. Drive after drive, the guides checked the spot where her kill lay on the ground, but repeatedly, there was no sign of her at the kill; instead there were only tracks going backwards and forwards to an area a couple of kilometres south of the kill.

Fast forward a few days, and her tracks kept on returning to a thicket of flood debris on the western bank of the Zebenine riverbed, not 50m from where she was discovered with cubs in December last year. There hadn’t really been any sightings of her over the past few days, but as I was passing the area this morning, I thought that I would just poke my nose in to see if there was any sign of her... we arrived to an empty riverbed with very little going on. I had no sooner started explaining to my guests why we were there and what we were looking for when one of my guests casually commented “there she is”. As I faced forward, I could see the pure white tip of her tail twitching from behind a distant log. Marula paid no attention to us as she marched straight towards the shelter of some fallen twigs and logs that we believed housed her cub – or cubs – as far as I know, no one had seen them (or it) yet. When she arrived, the squeals suddenly erupted from within the tangle, and the mother leopard disappeared into the den. I held my breath, hoping and praying that a sighting - which I have been waiting more than 11 years for - would play out in front of us.

We saw movement as Marula started to emerge again. She clearly wasn’t back at the den to suckle the youngsters, and when she showed herself completely, we could see she had other intentions. She was back to move them and just as I had hoped for, when she came into view, she had one of the tiny cubs gently nestled in her mouth! Yes, she was bringing out a two-week old cub right in front of us!!! I literally started shaking as adrenaline pumped through my body in response to the realisation of what a rare sighting this was and how privileged I felt to be part of it.

Cameras clicked away as Marula emerged from the thicket and walked off to the north with a cub. After about 20m, she stopped and turned around. The squeals of a second cub in the den drew her back to the thicket where she once more, went inside. It wasn’t long before she came back out with the cub more comfortably positioned in her jaws, and started walking off in the same northerly direction. Despite the protestations of the second cub left behind in the den, Marula knew she had to do her duties and move the cubs one at a time to their next, wisely-chosen den site. As she walked off to the north, we opted not to follow her during this vulnerable and delicate process. As we watched her disappearing, all I could think about was just how unbelievably lucky we had just been. For the umpteenth time this year, my guests at Tanda Tula Safari Camp and I had been treated to an incredible moment in the untamed wilds of the Greater Kruger Park.

Despite waiting for over an hour, Marula did not return for the second cub which tells me that her new den site must be some distance up the riverbed, and deeper into our concession, which is fantastic news for us. There is also a possibility that she may even have had three cubs and was merely taking the cub we saw to a den site which the first cub had already been moved to. However, without having a chance to investigate the tracks more closely, for now, this remains pure speculation. This is the third litter that she has had in little under a year, but sadly fate was not kind to the previous two litters. We sincerely hope that it is a case of third time lucky for this stunningly relaxed leopard.

With the situation being a sensitive one, we will be keeping an eye out for her and where she may have moved her den site to, but as always, we will give her the space she needs to raise the cubs in her own space. When she is ready to allow us to follow her back to the den site, we will do so with care and caution. Rest assured, when we do see the cubs again, we will let you know! So be sure to keep reading our blogs and social media platforms for any news regarding Marula and the cubs.

For now though, please enjoy some of the images that I managed to snap of this incredibly special sighting this morning.








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