When you get an email asking if you'd be interested in going to Zambia to spend 3 months following a leopard family you'd be pretty crazy to turn it down. A few days and 3 flights later I was entering South Luangwa National Park.
I’ve seen some fantastic sights, spending over 400 hours in search of leopards as well as meeting passionate, knowledgeable and welcoming people along the way.
It’s hard to choose just a few experiences from what I’ve seen, every drive there’s been something new, be it a new bird, animal or amazing animal behaviour, every drive in the park is different.
It’d been 2 weeks and there still hadn't been a sign. No one had seen them, there’d be rumours of a cub being spotted up a tree or lurking in a bush but no photos and when I went to look, nothing.
I’d seen leopards around the park, I’d even seen the mother, Alice, but still not a sign of a cub. As time went on it became more and more possible that the young cubs hadn't made it, maybe a male leopard, lions or hyena had come across the defenceless cubs.
One afternoon I headed out again in search of the cubs with Willy, another of Mfuwe’s great guides. Willy was a guy I took to straight away, massively likeable and easy to get along with. It was getting late and most drives were paying attention to the lion pride on the other side of the Mushilashi river. We headed away from the traffic, whispers of a leopard kill near the main road drawing us that way.
As the sun set we came across Alice, stretched out in front of some scrub and what was that moving behind her. A cub! Not much bigger than a domestic cat, chewing away on an unlucky impala. The sun soon set and the cub returned to the safety of the trees, but only one, maybe the other had succumbed after all.
With the kill remaining on the ground and hyenas lurking I didn’t hold out much hope for it still being there in the morning. The kill would be stolen and Alice would move her cub away from prying eyes once again and the search would begin all over again.
12 hours later we were out at first light, as expected the kill had seemingly vanished without a trace but then a movement up in the tree; Alice and the kill. She’d seen sense and moved it to safety before hyenas could get an easy meal and she wasn't alone, there was a cub and, amazingly, her 3 year old son was lounging in the tree as well. A big male leopard in the company of a young cub could spell disaster but Alice didn't seem fussed.
Already ecstatic at not only rediscovering the cub but also having 3 leopards in one tree things then began to get even better. A movement in a neighbouring tree, another cub! They were both alive and we now had 4 leopards in front of us.
The next 3 days were incredible. Alice, her cubs and their older brother making the most of the impala feast and nearby waterhole. Watching cubs frolicking together, even approaching the older male and patting at him. Alice always on edge, alerting the cubs to an approaching hyena so they could disappear up a tree. Every night when I left I hoped the hyenas waiting at the bottom of the tree wouldn't be successful and the cubs would be there in the morning. They were.
Eventually the impala was finished, the cubs were waddling around with stuffed bellies and it was time to move on, trailing behind their mum Alice and the cubs melted into the scrub, gone, for now.
The film from my first encounter with Alice and the cubs can be viewed below.