September Trumpet 2023

Spring is in the air and with it comes a delightful burst of colour, energy and new growth! Not only in the surrounding bush, but also at the lodge itself. There have been so many projects and exciting developments during these past few months. What better way to share everything that’s been going on, than with an exciting Spring EP Newsletter?

Elephants at the gate

Elephants at the gate

In May of this year, the new Elephant Plains Game Lodge main offices opened its doors in the heart of Nelspruit. Reservations and many of the operational functions moved from the lodge to a more centrally located base in the heart of town. Our doors are open for any visitors, wishing to enquire on availability, or any other information that they might need. The office is manned by our Reservations Manager, Lorien Henning ([email protected]) and Operations Manager, Barbara Nolte ([email protected]). Both can be reached telephonically on either +27 76 838 2827 or +27 83 567 2417. The office is located at 38 Mostert Street in Nelspruit. If you are ever in the area, do pop in for a quick visit and a cup of coffee!

We also had the privilege of welcoming Dee-Anne, our Communications Liaison, to the team. Her unwavering commitment to guest satisfaction sets a new, unparalleled standard. With an innate passion for elevating each visitor’s experience, she goes above and beyond to ensure their stay is nothing short of extraordinary. Infusing her care and meticulous attention to detail, she cultivates an ambiance of authentic connection that resonates deeply with our guests. Dee-Anne’s friendly presence within our team is cherished, as she truly embodies the essence of what makes EP so heart-warming and familiar.

Pathway with flowers
Spring flowers
Flowers at rondavels

Darryn and Kellé are doing an amazing job as management couple and we couldn’t be happier to have welcomed them back home, after they’d been part of the EP team, pre-Covid. Welcome back home, guys!

Our new addition to the kitchen, Chef Renier Troskie, has gracefully taken over the helm as our new Head Chef. With his dynamic leadership, the Food & Beverage department has experienced a remarkable revitalization. Renier has masterfully curated a new menu, seamlessly intertwining the richness of traditional South African cuisine, together with a global tapestry of flavours. We are excited about this new culinary journey, promising our guests an exquisite fusion of freshly prepared, innovative delights, to enchant and captivate their palates.

We are also delighted to introduce the latest additions to our team of guides: Jordan Delvecchio and Jordan Nell. Their profound affinity to nature and their unwavering commitment to crafting unparalleled wildlife experiences for our guests, render them a perfect match for our team.

Other additions to the team include Keletso (Commis Chef), Robby (Maintenance), Veronica (Housekeeping) and Langutani (Housekeeping). You’ve all fitted right into our EP traditions and have contributed so much to the team already. Our members of staff will always remain one of our biggest assets.

Guests on safari

Guests on safari

We are still busy with our gentle refurbishments of the Rondavels. The first in line was Rondavel 5, where a delightful change is almost complete. Subsequently, we plan to revitalize each individual Rondavel in a phased manner. Our overarching aspiration is to capture the enduring allure and timeless elegance, intrinsic to the South African Safari, while still keeping a bit of the original charm of years gone by.
Rondavels 1, 2, 3, and 4 have been adorned with some new furnishings and decor elements, poised to elevate the guest experience. The infusion of these changes not only adds a touch of modern sophistication, but also harmonizes seamlessly with the natural allure of the surrounding gardens. As we continue to enhance every detail, we eagerly anticipate the delight and appreciation that these newly transformed spaces will evoke in our cherished guests. As soon as the upgrades are finished, we’ll send out some much-anticipated photos of the upgrades.

The Wi-Fi installation at the lodge has also been completed with fibre being installed, in order to include all our rooms with coverage. This has been a lovely addition to the overall experience and the connection is a lot more consistent, enabling our guests to share their amazing experience here far and wide.

Lions on drive

Lions on drive

Lately, our wildlife encounters have been nothing short of extraordinary. The enchanting Tiyani, a female leopard, has given birth to two cubs, born in the early days of August. We still eagerly anticipate the privilege of witnessing their growth and journey ahead. At the moment they are still safely tucked away in their den site.

We have enjoyed remarkable sightings of cheetahs, typically more elusive to the area. These special sightings have been more frequent, surprising and delighting us during the past few weeks.

Our traversing area has also been graced by the presence of wild dogs. It’s a heart-warming sight to view their energetic interaction. The Ottowa pack seems to be gradually relocating their precious pups closer to our property, which is very exciting!

Adding to the excitement, our traversing area now hosts four new male lions. Their majestic presence adds an incredible new chapter to the rich history of our area’s lion prides through the years.

We are still eagerly awaiting the first rains and we’re looking forward to the welcoming lush greenery and all the baby antelope this new season will bring. We are looking forward to a fantastic Springtime. Hopefully, you’ll join us on safari one of these days. Until then, keep safe.

“The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa, for he has so much to look forward to.”
– Richard Mullin –

The EP Team

The Oxpecker

Kayleigh Rose Humphries

Author

It’s an Oxpecker life!

Have you ever seen little birds on an animal before and wondered what kind of birds it was, why they were there, or what they were busy doing? Also, what impact does it have on the animal it sits on?

What are oxpeckers?

Oxpeckers are birds that come from the family of Buphagidae. There are two types of oxpeckers. The Red-Billed oxpeckers and the Yellow-Billed oxpeckers. The similar Red-billed Oxpecker differs from Yellow-billed Oxpecker by having a red bill, a yellow eye-wattle and a dark rump, the same colour as the remainder of the upper parts. These birds are beneficial to the animals of the bushveld, as well as the humans who enjoy their walks through the African bushveld.

About oxpeckers 

Oxpeckers are birds that spend their days feasting on ticks and parasites that live on herbivores. This relationship is known as mutualistic symbiosis. That means that both parties benefit from this friendship. Oxpeckers get some good grub, while the herbivores are left tick and parasite free.

Sweetveld is normally palatable and nutritious and it will remain with its nutritional value throughout all the stages of growth in its mature stage. It will have the same nutritional value during every season throughout the year. When the grass is young the level of nutrition will be at its highest.  In this area, if the grass is over grazed, the area will get damaged and will lose its value.

Grass in the sweetveld area can be grazed in the dry season and is going to be most likely where you will find most grazing animals during the winter months in the lowveld.

Grazers that you are most likely to see will include impala (Aepyceros melampus), buffalo (Syncerus caffer), zebra (Equus quagga) and White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum) blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus).

An oxpecker

An oxpecker

Herbivores benefit 

From the smallest herbivores such as the warthog and impala to the largest herbivores such as the Cape buffalo and White rhino.  All benefit from having their coats plundered of blood-sucking invertebrates. Blood loss caused by ticks and other parasites may cause a lack of energy. Out in the bushveld, having a large amount of energy is very important to survival. Without the necessary energy, herbivores find it harder to live day-to-day life, defending themselves, grazing and running away from predators.

Oxpeckers do not manage to take off every single tick or parasite. However, they do take enough of them off to control the infestations to a large degree, preventing a flood of high loads into the environment where a secondary infestation could have potentially occurred.

Not only do the oxpeckers keep herbivores clean, they can also warn herbivores of any potential threat nearby. Birds are more aware of their surroundings and can pick up on danger faster than most animals. If they feel threatened, they will fly away in a hurry. Their warning calls give herbivores a heads up to potential danger looming nearby.

Although there are a lot of positive attributes to this friendship, there could also be a slightly negative effect. These birds tend to pick at old wounds and scars, which might lead to scars and wounds on herbivores opening up again. Having an open wound might put the host at risk of secondary infection and this could cause the host to become weaker.

Oxpeckers on a warthog

Oxpeckers on a warthog

Oxpeckers Nest

Not only do oxpeckers feed off of herbivores, they also obtain hair from them to build a comfortable, cosy nest. They place the hair on top of blades of grass in a cup shape, which later becomes more flattened. It does not stop just there. Any cracks in the nest are filled by dung from their hosts. The nests are built in tree cavities. An entire flock will locate a specific cavity and inspect and approve it together. They will utilize this cavity for years to come.

Oxpeckers are cooperative breeders, which means only one pair will do the breeding. They will use the back of their host to do the mating. Only the dominant male and female oxpeckers would incubate the eggs, whilst the rest of the flock, known as the helpers, help feed the brood and remove unwanted objects such as eggshells and faecal sacs. All the members of the flock are related and kinship selection ensures that the individual’s gene line stays preserved.

Oxpeckers usually tend to avoid primates as well as carnivores. They also stay clear of the beautiful African elephant. This is because elephants do not tolerate their presence. Elephants will use their tails, ears and truck to chase the oxpeckers away.

Oxpeckers picking at an open wound

Oxpeckers picking at an open wound

Next time you are on a safari, be on the lookout for oxpeckers on the following animals:

Cape Buffalo, White rhino, zebra, impala, kudu, giraffe, warthog and many other herbivores.

Keep an eye out for our weekly blog posts. We have insightful and interesting topics to keep you busy while planning your next safari adventure! Hope to see you out on game drive soon!

Kayleigh Humphries

Veld Types at Elephant Plains

Kayleigh Rose Humphries

Author

Sweetveld, sourveld and mixed-veld

In the Lowveld, where Elephant Plains is situated, you get a wide variety of different grass species. They all have different tastes and different nutritional values and some grasses prefer different soils to grow in. Due to this, you will find different types of grazers grazing in different areas. Knowing what veld type you get in an area, will help you find the animals you are looking for during your safari.

What is a sweetveld, sourveld and mixed-veld?

Sweetveld, sourveld and mixed-veld are the different types that you can find in an area. This will also determine the types of grazers you will find in that particular area during different types of seasons throughout the year.

Sweetveld, sourveld and mixed-veld are all determined by two main environmental factors:

  1. The amount of rainfall.
  2. The soil texture (The proportion of sand, silt and clay-sized particles that make up the mineral fraction of the soil).

Sweetveld

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Sweetveld is an African grass species, that is not noticeably acid in soil reaction and is characterized by production in the presence of adequate grazing of predominantly annual grasses.

There are two factors that lead to the development of Sweetveld:

  1. A low average rainfall over the growing season.
  2. A fine-textured soil like clay with poor drainage
Sweetveld - Veld Types at Elephant Plains

Sweetveld at Elephant Plains

Sweetveld is normally palatable and nutritious and it will remain with its nutritional value throughout all the stages of growth in its mature stage. It will have the same nutritional value during every season throughout the year. When the grass is young the level of nutrition will be at its highest.  In this area, if the grass is over grazed, the area will get damaged and will lose its value.

Grass in the sweetveld area can be grazed in the dry season and is going to be most likely where you will find most grazing animals during the winter months in the lowveld.

Grazers that you are most likely to see will include impala (Aepyceros melampus), buffalo (Syncerus caffer), zebra (Equus quagga) and White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum) blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus).

Sourveld

Sourveld is an African veld type that is widely covered with seasonal perennial grasses and offers inferior grazing for grazers.

There are two factors that lead to sourveld:

  1. High average rainfall during the growing season of plants
  2. A sandy, well-drained soil.

As the grass matures, the value of its nutrition drops and as mature grass, it will lose all its value. Meaning the grass is not a top pick for grazers to graze from. You will most likely come across a grazer or two during the growing phase when the grass is young and green, filled with all that yummy nutrition that grazers are looking for. The right time of year for this will be after the very first rainfall of the season.  Once all the plants and vegetation have enjoyed a much-needed rain after a long cold and dry season. Usually November/December time. During this time, you will find a large number of different species feasting on the young, green and nutrition-packed grasses, however, if the area is over-grazed, it will cause the area to deteriorate and will be no good for the animals in the area.

Grazers that you will find will be any form of grazers such as impala (Aepyceros melampus), blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), buffalo (Syncerus caffer) and many more.

Sourveld - Veld Types at Elephant Plains

Sourveld

Mixed-veld

Does the name not say it all? We have just gone through two different types of veld and although the two different types have their different preferences of soil to grow in, doesn’t mean the two can’t be together. Confusing right?

Although it is called a Mixed-Veld it does not contain the same value as the Sweetveld and sourveld. Mixed-Veld grows slower after rains, therefore it takes longer to reach the mature stage Thus this type of grass is not as vulnerable to over grazing, like sweetveld and sourveld.

The types of grazers that will occur in this area will be a wide variety, impala (Aepyceros melampus), blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), buffalo (Syncerus caffer), zebra (Equus quagga) and White Rhino (Ceratotherium simum) and much more. Sometimes even an elephant or two.

It is very important to know what vegetation types you have in an area to determine what animals you will come across, but luckily no matter what time of the year you book a safari holiday at Elephant Plains, you will always bump into a grazer feeding on the veld types around the area, because we have a rich variety of each veld type and where there is general game (grazers) there will normally be predators nearby.

Mixed Veld - Veld Types at Elephant Plains

Mixed Veld

Keep an eye out for our weekly blog posts. We have insightful and interesting topics to keep you busy, while planning your next safari adventure! Hope to see you out on game drive soon!

Kayleigh Humphries

Kaizer Malapane

Kayleigh Rose Humphries

Author

Kaizer Malapane

Kaizer Malapane has long since been a part of the EP family. Firstly, years ago as a Tracker, and since 2020 a part of our Ranger team. Anyone who has come across Kaiz, would know that he is one of the friendliest guys you’ll ever meet. With his impeccable manners, he was always willing to lend a hand. His knowledge of the bush also astonished many guests during game drives. Therefore, it’s always quite sad to bid such a unique individual farewell. This Wednesday blogpost is dedicated to Kaizer Malapane.

During a guide’s lifetime, we often meet some amazing people, with whom we get the opportunity to do life with. These people are not only co-workers. They become the people you live with, share with, and see every single day, for up to 64 days at a time. They become part of your life, your everyday family. It is so special to sit around a fire after work, laughing and sharing our days, but also sometimes having serious conversations about life. I really enjoyed getting to know Kaizer when I joined the EP team.

Kaizer Malepane

Kaizer Malepane

As often as we get to say hello and welcome to a newly appointed guide, we also sometimes have to say goodbye to another fellow guide. Kaizer re-joined the EP team on the 1st of December 2020. Suffice to say, once again he just fitted right in. I had the opportunity to sit down and ask Kaizer a few questions about his time at Elephant Plains Game Lodge.

Q: How did it feel when you first came to Elephant Plains?

A: It felt like I was home.

Q: What was one sighting that really stood out for you?

A: One sighting that really stood out and that I will never forget was when two wild dogs made a kill and Tiyani’s cub snuck in and stole a piece of the kill. She took it up a tree and just after that, three hyenas came along and stole the kill from the cub. Getting to see three different predator species, interacting in that way, was incredible and something I have never seen before. I will never forget that moment.

Q: What was one sighting that made you sad?

A: One sighting that really made me sad was watching a female lion kill a wild dog. Seeing something like that is never nice, but at the end of the day nature can be very brutal and sad at times.

Q: Which leopard was your favourite and why?

A: Hosanna. He was a very easy leopard to track, because his territory wasn’t so big, and he was a very famous leopard in the Sabi Sand. Everyone loved him. Hosanna will always be on my mind.

Q: What was one life lesson you learnt here at Elephant Plains?

A: One lesson I learnt here at Elephants Plains was that working as a team isn’t just about being part of the guiding team.  All the staff at the lodge are part of the same team and no staff member is worth any more or any less than the next one. We are all equal and if we don’t work as a team, we will not be successful. We are not only a team, but also a family.

Q: Name one staff member here at Elephant Plains that has always made you smile?

A: Lucas! Lucas (the bartender) is always very friendly and never says no to helping someone when they’re in need of help. He is always on top of drink orders, he’s always happy and never says no to anyone.

Q: What will be the hardest thing to say goodbye to?

A: The hardest thing to say goodbye to will be the family I have made here at Elephant Plains. It is never easy saying goodbye to the people you work and live with as a team.

Q: What does the future hold for you?

A: Right now I am working on my Level 3 FGASA qualification. Once I have completed that, I would like to become as successful as possible during my guiding career. In the future I would also love to be a mentor to young, future guides. Hopefully one day I will become a FGASA Instructor myself. This would allow me to help young students become the best possible guides they could be and to teach them everything I’ve learnt over my 16 plus years of guiding. Who knows? Maybe I can also work my way up into a management role one day.

Kaizer Malepane and team

Kayleigh, Kaizer and Tiaan

Kaizer Malepane

Kaizer watching a pangolin

Working alongside Kaizer for a time, has been an amazing experience for me. I am grateful that I got to work alongside a man, who was not just always friendly, but also very helpful at any time of the day. No matter what. I am sure that anyone who gets to work alongside Kaizer in the future, will share my same sentiment. It is certain that Kaizer will become a great mentor one day!

Good teammates never say goodbye, but simply, see you soon!

Keep an eye out for our weekly blog posts. We have insightful and interesting topics to keep you busy, while planning your next safari adventure! Hope to see you out on game drive soon!

The Marula Tree

Kayleigh Rose Humphries

Author

The marula tree

This week I would like to share some fascinating facts about one of Southern Africa’s most loved trees, the marula tree.

The beautiful marula (Scelerocarya Birrea), also called the “tree of love” by locals, is a rather big, impressive tree. During the summer months, the tree provides a large amount of shade. This makes it an ideal gathering spot, for ceremonies, such as weddings. It is also said that those who get married under the branches of the marula Tree, will enjoy vigor and fertility throughout their days. In the Zulu culture, the marula Tree also symbolizes a woman’s fertility, softness, and tenderness, and new-born girls are welcomed into the world with traditional marula ceremonies.

How to spot a marula tree whilst on a safari

The marula tree is a deciduous tree that grows to a height of 18 meters tall. During the months of September to November, the tree is in a stunning blooming stage, adorned with beautiful flowers. From January to March, the tree is covered in tasty fruits. The flesh from the fruit is high in vitamins and said to be even richer in vitamin C, than an orange. 

The marula tree
The Marula Tree Bark

The marula tree
Photo’s by Kayleigh Humphries

Uses of the marula tree

  • The skin from the fruit can be boiled to make a drink, or burnt to be used as a substitute for coffee.
  • The wood is soft and can be used for lovely art carvings and to make “mokoros” (dugout canoes).
  • The inner bark of the marula tree can be used to take the sting away from a rash, by pressing the bark onto your skin and rubbing it along the rash.
  • The inner bark is used to make a pink/brown dye.
  • The inner bark can also be used to make a rope.
  • Oil from the seed within the fruit, can be used as a skin cosmetic.
  • The seeds can be eaten as a snack.
  • The green leaves can be eaten to help relieve heartburn.
  • The roots of the tree contain a large amount of water and can be dug up and hung upside down to drain the water, which you can then drink. Have a look during your next safari, to see if you notice how elephants have dug up roots, in order to get water during the dry season.
The Marula Tree

Robin Cook from Elephants Alive spreading dung paste on a tree

Damaged Marula tree

The Marula Tree
Photo by Kayleigh Humphries

Male or female

Yes, there is a difference in gender within the Marula Tree. How do you tell? The female tree carries flowers and fruits, whereas the male trees don’t. So it’s quite easy to tell the difference during the blooming months of September to March. There is, however, another way that you can tell the gender during the other months of the year. Have a look at the ground around the Marula Tree. The grass around the tree will be flattened. This is due to the elephants feeding on the flowers and fruits that have dropped to the ground. The surrounding grass could also be trampled, when elephants stand next to the tree, while pushing up against it, to get the unreachable fruits to fall to the ground.

In one of our cultures, the Venda Culture, it is believed that if you wish to have a baby boy the pregnant female will have to drink a tea that is made from the powered bark of a male Marula. If she wishes to have a baby girl, she would have to drink a tea made from the powered bark of a female Marula. However, if the baby is born of the opposite gender, it is said that the young one is extremely special, as it was able to defy the spirits.

Protected tree

With all the uses and beliefs of the Marula Tree, it is no wonder that the tree is highly valued in South Africa, therefore being protected. If caught while cutting down this tree, you are liable to a fine of over R50 000.

Elephants are sadly the biggest threat to Marula Trees. They love the inner bark of the Marula, because it is filled with nutritional value and is also very tasty.

By breaking off the cambium layer (also known as ring-barking) of the tree, it damages the layer of the tree that keeps it alive and nutrients and moisture cannot travel from the roots up to the leaves of the tree. Sadly, these trees die. If ring-barking is not as severe around the whole trunk, the tree might still survive.

How are we protecting the marula tree?

There are two main human interventions which we can utilize in order to protect the trees.

In the Sabi Sand, most private land owners have come together and agreed to wire-netting the trunk of the tree, in order to make it a little harder for elephants to dig their big tusks into the cambium layer of the marula. The fencing does not have any negative impact on the tree, nor the environment around it.

Another way is to hang a beehive in the tree. Elephants are quite scared of bees and the buzzing sound coming from a busy hive, can cause the elephant to leave the area. Albeit, showing their disdain first, by kicking up sand, flapping their ears and making loud trumping sounds! With beehives, we do not only save a tree, but also help the bee population as well. This also give scientists another opportunity to study bees and their behaviors. Using a beehive also does not have any negative impact on the tree, or the environment. In fact, it plays a positive role both ways.

The marula tree wrapped in wire

A marula tree wrapped in protective wire
Photo by Kayleigh Humphries

The inner bark is used to make a pink/brown dye

The inner bark is used to make a pink/brown dye
Photo by Kayleigh Humphries

Here is a list of other ways to protect marula trees against elephants

  • Rock packing/pyramids.
  • Creosote
  • Bee pheromones.
  • Bioneem oil.
  • Chili oil.
  • Dung paste. This is made up from clay and buffalo dung, mixed with fermented elephant dung. Spreading this dung paste on the main stem, helps prevent insects from getting deeper inside the bark, that already has some damage by the ring-barking of elephants.
The marula tree protected by beehive
The marula tree protected by beehive

Beehive hanging from a Marula Tree
Photo by Robin Cook, Elephants Alive

The Marula Tree is an iconic tree to many around Southern Africa and it’s without a doubt one of the most beautiful trees that we get to enjoy here at Elephants Plains. While on your next, or first safari, make sure to ask your guide about the beautiful Marula Tree…

Keep an eye out for our weekly blog posts. We have insightful and interesting topics to keep you busy, while planning your next safari adventure! Hope to see you out on game drive soon!

The first two years of a leopard’s life

Kayleigh Rose Humphries

Author

The first two years of a Leopard’s life

Seeing a wild leopard in its natural habitat in Southern Africa must be on top of anyone’s safari bucket list! Their magical look and elegant movements are enough to send chills down your spine.  Have you ever stopped and thought about how that particular leopard you are viewing, came to be so strong, resilient, magical and elegant?

A leopard (Panthera pardus) that lives past the age of two years, is considered lucky, as the first two years of a leopard’s life can be quite challenging. During this time, they are at their most vulnerable to other predators, having to learn certain hunting, survival and social skills.

Tiyani and her cub grooming

Tiyani and her cub grooming
Photo by Kayleigh Humphries

The beginning

Let’s take a look at the mating process, where it all starts. A male leopard will locate a female in oestrus, by the scent left in her urine, as well as her contact calling to lure a potential mate. Once the male has located the female, they will begin a courtship that could last anywhere between two to five days!  Once the mating ritual is finished, the male would leave and never really play a role in the life of the potential cubs. 

Tiyani and her cub patrolling

Tiyani and her cub
Photo by Kayleigh Humphries

Tiyanis cubs playing together

Tiyani’s cubs playing
Photo by Dylan van Aardt

Once the female leopard falls pregnant, she will carry her young for a gestation period of anywhere between 90-105 days. Just before giving birth, she will find a safe den site. This is normally situated somewhere safely hidden away, for example in thick, bushy areas, or on top of a safe, rocky outcrop. Here she would be able to safely hide the cubs, away from any potential danger. It is here where she will give birth to two, or sometimes even three, cubs.

The first 12 weeks

Once a female leopard has found the perfect den site, she will give birth to beautiful, but still very much helpless and under-developed cubs. They are born with their eyes closed (altricial) and only weigh roughly around 1kg! When they are born, they are not born with the perfect spot pattern we see in adults, but with a fluffy, dull grey coat, with barely visible spots. These are called rosettes and will grow more prominent, as the cubs mature. Specific rosette patterns of mature leopards are also used in identifying the different leopards we find in our traversing area. At ten days old, the young cubs start opening their eyes, having their first look at the world around them. These brand-new eyes are stunningly blue and slowly change colour, to a more golden-green shade between the ages of eight and twelve weeks. The exact colour change may vary in different leopards.

When feeding, they would start off by getting all the necessary proteins from their mother’s milk and continue to suckle for up to 12 weeks. Mom could however, start introducing the littles ones to small scraps of meat, from as early as the age of around eight weeks. At the age of 12 weeks (3 months), they will start moving around with mom, exploring the limited area of protection close to their den site. Sometimes even while mom goes out hunting.

For up to six weeks, while the cubs are growing and during their suckling stage, they are well hidden in the safe den site that mom had found. They would remain at one den site for anything between two and five days before mom picks them up and moves them around to another safe spot. This is done in order to avoid any conflict with other predators, which at this stage of a leopard’s life, is their biggest threat.  Leopard cubs sadly have a high mortality rate and often lose their life to Spotted Hyena (Crocuta Crocuta), Lions (Panthera Leo) and sadly enough, even other Leopards. This instinct to kill other leopard cubs is in order to eliminate any possible future competition.

Tiyani and her cubs

Tiyani and her cubs
Photo by Dylan van Aardt

Playtime!

Playtime is very important for young leopards and starts at a very early age in their lives. Playtime consists of stalking, pouncing, biting or tugging on mom’s tail. Siblings will often play together, as well as start exploring away from the den when mom is out hunting. Play is a very important activity in a cub’s life because it teaches them the necessary skills they would need, in order to survive later on. It also improves their stalking agility and hunting skills, as well as aids in muscle building.  During playtime, various small objects seem to amuse leopard cubs. They would utilise various natural toys that the bush provides for them, such as rocks, sticks and leaves. You might even sometimes see a young cub pouncing around in an attempt to catch a grasshopper!

One-year-old

Having been able to view a particular leopard cub from birth to the age of one year, is a truly magnificent moment in any guide’s life! The cub has thus done a full lap around the sun, seen the seasons come and go and experienced different seasons while settling nicely into “leopard-hood”.  The cub would by now also have seen the beauty, as well as the harshness of life. They would have mastered pretty much most of the skills needed, in order to become a strong, independent leopard.

It is stated by some sources that leopard cubs start joining mom on hunting trips, from the age of three months. In my personal opinion, from what I have seen out in the bush, I do not agree. The earliest I ever saw cubs going out on a hunting trip, was just before the age of one.

The hunting practice starts off with smaller prey, such as medium sized birds, squirrels or scrub hares.  All the practice during playtime now comes into use and it is time to start getting down to business…

On one occasion, I viewed a cub stalking a Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris). Mom took cover behind a tall patch of grass and sat very still, watching while the cub crouched down and slowly crawled from one patch of long grass to another. This took some time, as the cub did it quietly and slowly, in order to avoid being detected by the Guineafowl and any other bird species in the area, that may give her presence away. The cub made it up to a tree just a few meters away from the Guineafowl. Sadly, a Blacksmith lapwing picked up on either the mom, or the cub’s presence and started alarm calling, thereby chasing away any birds in the area. After an unsuccessful hunt like this, mom would leave her young for a few days at a time, to go and hunt and supply food for the necessary energy for the cubs to try and hunt once again. During this time, you will find the cubs in the same area where mom had left them. The cubs might start exploring further and further away from the area, thereby exposing themselves to other predators. Luckily the cubs have magnificent hearing abilities and more often that not, mom and the cubs would reunite, before danger got the better of the situation.

This is both an exciting and sad time for guests and guides alike. Once cubs have mastered their own hunting skills, they would be ready to leave mom’s side.

Tiyanis cub playing with a rock

Tiyani’s cub playing
Photo by Dylan van Aardt

Time to move on

At the age of around two, the time had come for the cubs to move on and to find their own territory, whilst living a solitary life. The cubs would by now have learned and mastered all the necessary skills in order to start their independent lives. Mom and cubs would not necessarily re-unite with one another, but might be seen greeting on occasions and even sharing overlapping parts of their territory, although not for long periods of time.  Once the cub has left the mother, the cub will live life as a solitary cat, only having another leopard around during mating.

Keep an eye out for our new weekly blog posts. We have insightful and interesting topics to keep you busy, while planning your next safari adventure! Hope to see you out on game drive soon!

About the author

Pin It on Pinterest