The leopard cub and the squirrel

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It had been a typically hot October day. A haze from the nearby bush fires did nothing to quell the heat and the pool was calling. I then realised that there was a spare vehicle and instead of heading to the pool to relax I went to the kitchen, convinced Ryan the Executive Chef to join me and with cameras in hand, off we set. We were not to be disappointed!

We knew there was an area that Legadema’s daughter Maru’s cub liked to hang out. There was a small channel on one side of the road and a beautiful forest island on the other, dotted with rain trees, figs and leadwoods. Perfect leopard territory, especially if you are a six-month old cub! As we drove and chatted, occasionally stopping to listen and check for tracks there was not a peep from the bush. Where were the incessant chattering squirrels, the complaining monkeys or the squawking of starlings, pinpointing predators for us? It seemed we were going to have to rely on our own eyes and ears and not the ‘experts’ whose survival depends on it…

We drove on, noticing lots of tracks for baboons, elephants and impala but nothing that belonged to anything possessing claws. Just as I was about to say let’s take another route, we meandered round a corner and right in front of us, quietly lapping at the channel was the frame of a small leopard, Maru’s cub! She looked up, realised we were no harm and went about her drinking. After having her share, she moved off into some thick bushes as we trailed at a comfortable distance.  Fortunately for us, she decided to climb a tree to get a better view of the surroundings instead of slinking into thicker bushes. Whilst there, a squirrel noticed her and immediately started alarming from an opposite tree. This instantly drew the cub’s attention and her cute ‘pick me’ eyes sharpened into those of a killer and she started down towards the squirrel. Realising its mistake, the tree dwelling rodent suddenly went quiet and tried to sneak off before making a jump and crossing to a larger tree. This was futile as the cub made two bounds and the squirrel was caught in mid air as it leapt for its safety.

We quickly and quietly as possible repositioned the vehicle and could see the cub holding the squirrel tightly in her paws. Often, cubs will play with their prey as they are unsure what to actually do with it. Not today! The squirrel had already been subdued by the time we got closer and soon was being chewed upon. A well-caught mouthful! We watched as she finished her meal before stalking and chasing another squirrel who managed to dash into a dense woolly caper bush. She then decided not to risk the thorns and so climbed back up the tree to rest and gaze over the floodplains, no doubt looking for Maru to come back and check on her wellbeing.

The athleticism, confidence and understanding of her surroundings will hopefully bode well for this youthful leopard in an area where cubs have struggled to survive due to the ongoing territorial claims by male leopards, large marauding baboon troops, increased hyaena numbers and ever-present lions. We hope to watch closely as she grows in both confidence and size. We were sure mom was close by and with the imminent arrival of the rains and baby impala and easy meals, the future is looking good for Legedema’s grandcub!

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By Graham Simmonds

As the former General Manager of Mombo Camp, and now based in Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls, Graham is perfectly placed to share all the extraordinary experiences and sightings from his travels to our camps in the pristine southern African wilderness...

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