So…what could’ve happened?
As we left for our afternoon drive on the same day we took bets as to what we would find on arrival at the site of the kill and mostly we agreed that we’d find some bones and trees full of satisfied vultures.
We went straight to the mound where we last saw the kill and what did we find? Nothing! No vultures in the trees, not even a scrap of the kill, nothing!
The immediate assumption was that the leopard had returned and dragged the kill away. We started off by checking small thickets and trees in the vicinity of the kill site, but found nothing. After that we got off the vehicle and three of us checked on the ground in different directions for some sign of a drag mark. Eventually after some time we managed to find a very feint drag mark crossing the road and heading in the direction of a small thicket in the middle of the flood plain. We went back to the vehicle and slowly followed the drag mark which went right past the thicket and towards the tree-line on the edge of the floodplain.
On approaching the tree-line we spotted the leopard sitting quietly in the shade watching us. We approached her and she stood up and walked to a small thicket amongst the trees where she had stashed the impala and began to feed. After a few minutes of feeding she went and lay down in the shade and began to groom herself. So, she had returned and taken possession of the kill again. But the mystery was still unsolved: why had she taken so long to return to the kill? And why had she left it for so long in the open like that in the middle of the day? Leopards typically will drag the kill into a thicket or up into a tree to keep it away from scavengers and this leopard had done none of that.
As we pondered these questions and admired the beauty of the leopard in the late afternoon light she suddenly got up and started walking slowly away from the kill and away from the floodplain along the tree-line. She was walking quite strangely, her tail cocked up in the air as a leopard would usually do when scolded by the alarm calls of squirrels, birds or impala. We followed slowly behind her and within 200m of the kill she walked straight up to a large dead fallen tree-trunk lying amongst some fever berry bushes. We circled around the thicket hoping to get her coming out the other side only to find her lying against the trunk in amongst the fever berry bushes with a tiny new-born cub at her feet!!
With great excitement we got our binoculars out and looked carefully. The cub was tiny, eyes still closed and ears still flat against the head. This was possibly the smallest leopard cub that I have ever seen. Through the binoculars I saw the leopard reach out with a paw towards the exposed routes of the tree-trunk, obviously trying to retrieve something. She then got up, walked around the tree trunk and came back with another tiny cub in her mouth. She deposited it at her feet and then began to groom both cubs.
We marveled at this amazing sight and then began to realise that the mystery may have been solved…
In the early hours of the morning the pregnant leopard had picked up on a herd of impala and managed to stalk and kill one of them. The activity of making the kill may have induced labour and she immediately needed to leave the kill to go and find a place to give birth. I am not sure how long it takes for a leopard to give birth but it can take up to 4 hours from the time labour starts until a domestic cat gives birth to the first kitten in the litter and I suspect that a leopard will probably be fairly similar. This would most certainly explain her long absence from the kill.
What an amazing experience shared with Tim, Una, Mr. More and Alex!
Early one morning, on a recent visit to Lebala Camp on the Linyanti Swamps in northern Botswana, we came across the fresh tracks of a leopard walking along the road. Our guide Alex reckoned it was the resident adult female and he mentioned that she was pregnant. Alex and our tracker Mr More, decided to follow the tracks which continued along the road for about a kilometer or so and then turned off to the south towards the Linyanti floodplains. We decided to follow the road all the way to the other side of the block of bush that she had disappeared into in the hope of picking up more tracks. Continue reading →
Just back now from a wonderful 14 days of safari with Tim and Una to the Kwando Camps in northern Botswana. What a great safari! Continue reading →
I have recently returned from a month in Kenya, where I spent 2 weeks in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and 2 Weeks in the Mara North Conservancy. Prior to the trip I had not been to Kenya before, but had spent a lifetime wishing that I could. When EcoTraining asked if I was interested in heading to Kenya to do in-house training for 2 lodges, I jumped at the opportunity!!
From a lifetime of watching natural history documentaries about East Africa, I certainly did have preconceived expectations and was hoping that these might be met. Well they were blown away!! Kenya is awesome!! Continue reading →