With time rapidly running out I was desperate for some more leopard action. The cubs were becoming increasingly hard to find again, just like on my arrival. I saw them every few days but they were never doing much and when they were it was too far off road to approach or they were hidden by annoying branches so clear shots were impossible.
The horseshoe loop still seemed to be their favourite hangout when there was no kill and this particular morning that’s exactly where they were. There was no sign of Alice around but the cubs were in an incredibly playful mood, chasing each other through the scrub, leaping up trees and pouncing on one another practising their stalking skills.
In the 3 months I’d been watching them they’d gone from clumsy looking cute kittens with out of proportion ears and paws to miniature leopards. The boy now clearly larger than his little sister and he definitely thought he was the boss.
Much like my cat back home the cubs would look seemingly relaxed and tired out before suddenly exploding into another fit of activity, running 15 foot up a tree and back down again in about 2 seconds.
Their stalking and wrestling may have been play now but I knew whilst watching them that in less than 6 months they'd be out on their own and all this ‘play’ would be real as they were trying to stalk and bring down meals to fight for their own survival.
I made a comment to John who was guiding me at the time that despite everyone ‘oohing’ and ‘aaawwwingg’ at their cuteness now, in a few months they would be perfectly capable of killing a grown man. A scary thought really but it just showed the transformation they go through from cute cuddly cubs to amazing killing machines in 18 months.
My time with the cubs and Alice was truly amazing, from the first time I found the cubs on the impala kill I’d seen the family grow, overcoming threats from hyenas and other leopards and now hopefully through those crucial first 6 months it looked as if the cubs would make it to adulthood.
I wondered if I’d ever see Alice again. Now nearing 15 she’d provided at least 8 new cubs for the valley. Thousands of people will have enjoyed her and her legacy to come. The leopard that didn’t know she was a leopard. Unafraid of vehicles, hunting in daylight and perfect at being a photographers dream. Here’s to Alice.