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The Cub Killer

At the end of June, the Mombo guides found Legadema at the Broken Baobab. This enormous tree has a large hollow at it’s centre, which is one of her favourite hiding places. As they watched her climb into the hollow, the telltale sound of tiny cubs mewling emanated from within.

A few days later, we tracked Legadema over an afternoon, hunting in the middle of the day, until she unexpectedly led us to her new den site on Limpy’s Island. Perhaps the constant passage of hyaenas and baboons past the Broken Baobab had prompted this move, and she had chosen a new place of safety for her little ones. The new den site was deep below a dense woolly caper bush, in an open, grassy plain, and as we approached, we could once again hear the mewling of at least two cubs. We then left the area, to give her the peace she needed.

Two days later, we had an amazing sighting with her in the forest close by, as she defended her kill from three young male lions from the Mporota Pride, and we were sure that night she would return to her den to suckle.

The following morning, we found her once again in the forest of Limpy’s, but behaving strangely- moving around and scent-marking, close to the caper-bush.

The reason for this became apparent when we sighted the Serondela male leopard on the prowl. She was obviously attempting to distract him from his intentions, which were soon to become apparent. The male disappeared south into the forest, while Legadema continued west, still trying to draw as much attention to herself as possible.

While the other guides remained with Legadema, I went in search of the male. I found him deep in a thickly-vegetated corner of Limpy’s, at the base of a large ebony tree. He jumped up into the tree and disappeared for a moment, before emerging again with a mewling leopard cub in his mouth.

He moved deep into a fever-berry thicket before lying down and playing with the cub in an almost intimate, affectionate fashion- it was a very strange moment, an encounter with a side of nature not many people have witnessed- what appeared to be a gentle, tender encounter, was in fact far more sinister than that it appeared.

This went on for about a half-hour, before the males attentions appeared far too intense, his licking far too rough, his eyes darting around the watching, silent forest. He was eating the cub.

This was an incredibly intense thing to watch; to be a dispassionate observer of a behaviour that few have seen- the urge to intervene crossed my mind, but the futility of such actions and our own anthropocentric, sentimental views of nature quickly made me take up my camera and just document what I was seeing and let nature take its course.

After a few minutes that seemed to go on forever, the leopard got up and moved away, prowling around, looking, perhaps, for the other cub. I got out of the vehicle and looked at the spot where he had been- not a trace of what had recently happened remained- not a drop of blood, a wisp of fur, nothing.

The leopard, who has now been named Mmolai (killer) then disappeared in to the forest once more, and I left the area.

A few hours later, another guide told me he had seen Legadema a considerable distance away from the scene, carrying a cub, removing it from danger. The future of this little one remains bleak with Mmolai on the scene, as he will kill any cubs he encounters in his newly-taken territory, but we remain in hope.

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