Evening again everybody.
This sighting presented itself to me in 2007, when I was working in the Manyeleti Game Reserve just to the North of Sabi Sands. It honestly rates as one of my all time favorite Leopard sightings.
I was guiding a group of English Guests, and it was their last afternoon drive. We had been struggling to find Rhinos, and decided to take the long trek to the southern part of the reserve where we thought our chances would be greater, than where we had already looked. This particular afternoon the mercury was pushing high, and it was about 40 degrees celcius when we left the lodge at 3pm.
My tracker, Alphie, spotted some Rhino Tracks and the 2 of us got out of the car to get an idea of where they went. While we were walking down the road, a ranger from a neighbouring lodge passed me, and mentioned she was also heading South.
Our Rhino tracks vanished into the Kruger National Park, and 5 minutes later we joined our guests on the car again and continued our trek South. 2 kilometers down the road we found the previously mentioned ranger stopped in the road. I had heard no radio communication from her and approached to see what she was watching.
She informed me that she had been watching Leopard Cubs, but upon my approach they ran in under the road, and with that she started up her car and left. Scratching my head as to why she would leave so fast, I had an idea she was trying to fool me to get a further head start to the south. I looked at Alfie, and decided to investigate after we had sat motionless for about 5 minutes. I jumped out of the vehicle, and lay flat on my stomach to peer into a storm drain pipe under the road. No luck, I just saw Black. We positioned the car closer to the roads edge, and I took the spotlight and tried again.
WOW there they were, 2 relaxed young Leopard cubs looking back at me. I was over the moon to have found the pipe to be their den, and in such an unusual setting I had to simply get some Photographs. We positioned the vehicle where we were eye level with the pipe opening, and at full zoom with my 500mm lens I could get some images. Holding a spotlight in one hand, and trying to hold the camera steady shooting at 1/30, 1/45 and 1/60 seconds was really physically taxing as I was bending my body in ways only gymnasts are trained.
Shooting with Velvia 100 slide film, I left the sighting with few hopes of getting any great images of the sighting. I had to wait a full 6 weeks till I got into the City, to get my rolls of film developed, and boy did these shots make my day when I saw them. I would never have expected to see Leopard cubs using a storm drain as a den site, I had seen Hyaenas do this before, but not Leopards.
Returning the next morning we found the mother had returned to collect her cubs as she had made an Impala kill during the night, and she had led her cubs to the waiting feast. They never returned after that, getting too big to fit into the pipe anymore.
I was fortunate enough to have seen this, and certainly do not expect to see this again.