Leopards are opportunists. If a bushbuck strolls past them whilst they’re sleeping they will happily stir and pounce. They can have numerous kills stashed at the same time and happily kill again if the prey will allow it. There’s even been tales of leopards killing and sacrificing their kill to hyenas simply so they can go and kill again whilst the hyenas are distracted and not have their second kill stolen.
It’d been 6 weeks since I’d had my first cub experience with Alice. I was able to find them every few days and if they had a kill it usually meant 2 or 3 days of solid leopard watching. Alice had her favourite areas and most kills were usually a stone’s throw from my favourite drive.
It all came after a fruitless afternoon’s drive. Leopards had evaded me and I’d headed back to the lodge as soon as the sun set. A mistake. Drinking around the bar when the guides returned I was soon hearing of a leopard making a kill not far from the lodge on my favourite drive. No one was sure which leopard it was but I had my suspicions.
With instructions to which tree it was in I set out at first light and there she was. The kill was not clearly visible but Alice and her cubs all with swollen bellies stretched out across a horizontal sausage tree branch was enough for me.
The morning wore on and Alice exited the tree soon enough despite the attentions of the hyenas below. Astonishingly she was followed by a cub who escaped unscathed, the hyenas clearly weren't on the ball this morning. She loped off and I could see her from afar under a bush with the cub whilst the other cub remained in the original tree (by this time I could sex the cubs), the male was much bolder than his sister and always first on show, whilst his shyer sister with her cleopatra eye stripe on her left eye stayed a little bit hidden. This is common with leopard cubs, males are bolder than females usually. Alice’s older cubs were the same. The male took after his mum and had no fear of vehicles, whilst the female was always wary and nervous with any more than 3 vehicles. This can change though, a close encounter such as falling from a tree or being charged by an elephant can give the confidence a knock and the cub’s roles change with the female becoming the bolder cub.
Whilst concentrating on the loan cub I noticed Alice and the other had vanished. Strange. The area was beside a waterhole so she had no need to venture far and with hyenas around I was surprised she’d go for a stroll leaving them almost unprotected.
This was until another vehicle pulled up. Not seeing the cub I was watching, the guide informed me that there was a leopard in a tree just out of view feeding on a kill. Surely not.
Alice hadn't just made one kill the previous evening she’d made 2 and was switching between the both of them. Maybe the other tasted better.
Ever since the appearance of the cubs 6 weeks ago, at a number of kills Alice’s older son had been in attendance. I’d named him J.I (Jose Ignacio - from my new-found love of Mexican soap operas in downtime) with new cubs on the scene people referring to him as ‘Alice’s cub’ was getting confusing.
This was strange, firstly as it was perfectly possible for a large male leopard to kill these cubs. It wouldn't be unheard of J.I wanting to mate with Alice but also he was 3 years old now and getting bigger by the day. Perfectly capable of making kills himself and not relying on his mum for handouts.
This double kill had clearly proven too much of a temptation and he was soon on the scene. It seemed Alice was a feline with mood swings. Much like a loving mother happy to have her son around the home but when he got too much of a pain she wished he’d move out, Alice and J.I’s relationship was much the same.
The first time I saw them together with the cubs everything seemed fine but as the weeks wore on the relationship became strained. People were telling me about seeing them fighting more and more. On one occasion I saw J.I force Alice off a kill in a tree, watching her plummet 30 foot to the hard road below, landing heavily and limping away.
But this double kill he was like a puppy, completely smitten with his mum and not wanting to leave her alone. Every approach would be met with an angry snarl, followed by Alice getting up and moving away, only to be followed. Even the young cubs joined in, with both cubs going over snarling at their older brother and batting him on the nose.
Eventually with the meat on the kills dwindling Alice tried to lead her cubs away from the clearly over attached J.I. I don’t know how it properly ended as she led them away from the road and into the bush with J.I not far behind but I didn't see them together again for a few weeks.