Spotting a leopard in the wild is a surreal, almost magical, experience. Encountering these elusive creatures in the wild can be tricky, but the Sabi Sand Reserve is famous for its leopard activity. The Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve is located along the western border of the Kruger National Park and comprises of a selection of exclusive private game reserves. There are no fences between Sabi Sand Reserve and Kruger, which allow the animals to wander freely between the two regions. Leopards form an integral part of the area’s diversity and visitors to the region will find that the territory near the Sand River has become home for a number of resident leopards often seen from the local safari lodges.
Adult males are harder to spot since they tend to venture out to new areas in an effort to claim new territories, while spotting females is more common. The area was home to a leopardess of incredible beauty, the Ravenscourt Female. She was a familiar sight to visitors of the area and gave birth to 6 litters (or 14 cubs in total). She died protecting her near independent male cub from a rogue male. Her cub has become fully independent and has moved down south. The rogue male, known by the locals as the Nyeleti (‘stars’ in Shangaan) male leopard, has since settled in the area.
A new female, Hlaba’Nkunzi, from the western region of Sabi Sand has claimed the Ravenscourt female’s territory as her own and has since given birth to 2 litters. Hlaba’Nkunzi is unusually adventurous for a leopard. She is regularly spotted near lodges during the evening or early in the morning. In fact, her most recent litter was delivered under the pool deck of a lodge’s private suite.
Local trackers and guides have been fortunate to observe one of her cubs grow up. This young male leopard has adopted some of his mother’s more eccentric traits, which includes: feeling at home around lodges and a quiet tolerance of game vehicles. He has become quite a popular personality in the area and serves as an excellent reminder that we are very fortunate to be in the presence of these incredible creatures.
The modern lifestyle is one of fast paced convenience and it is filled with technological wonders making our lives so much easier. It is a lifestyle, which has a tendency to separate us from the natural world. It makes the natural world and all its inhabitants seem like an abstract concept, instead of a living and breathing world. When we are given the opportunity to be in the presence of these majestic creatures, it reminds us of how privileged we are to be able to connect with the natural world in such a raw and unadulterated way. Ultimately, it exposes an important truth: That these big cats and their habitat must be protected so that our children, grandchildren and future generations may also have the opportunity to experience such wonder.