When you think of Madikwe Game Reserve, you might think of a wildlife wonderland known for its wild dog and big cat sightings. While lion sightings happen fairly regularly, that’s not the case with finding their more elusive cousins, the leopards. Leopards by nature are shy and secretive, which certainly makes them a challenge to track down.
As a graduate of NJ MORE Field Guide College, I am completing my internship at Madikwe Safari Lodge and, as part of my training, have the pleasure of joining guests and their field guides on safari. One particular August morning, we set out for a game drive with the aim of locating at least one of the big cats. An hour or so into the drive, the radio came alive with the announcement: “On loc with two bana nkwe” (on location with two leopard cubs). You can imagine the excitement that ensued, and vehicles from all over the reserve called in to get a place in line.
We were lucky to be in the right area at the time the sighting was called in. When it was our turn, we moved into the sighting to see two absolutely beautiful six-month-old leopard cubs – a first for me and for some of the others on the vehicle that day. The cubs were comfortable in the presence of vehicles and continued with their natural behaviour of playing and exploring around us. Their mother, however, was nowhere to be seen, too shy to make an appearance. This was a remarkably special sighting, to say the least.
After that morning, days went by with no word on the radio of any new leopard sightings. Then, whilst out on a drive, again the radio silence broke with: “Stations on loc with Munia on pitsi tswara” (on location with Munia on a zebra kill). Munia is one of our resident large, male leopards – easily identifiable by a cut upper lip. The sighting was very far off, but with the guests in agreement, we set off in search of him.
We had a wonderful afternoon as we journeyed to the south-west side of the reserve. We had already seen three of the Big Five on the way to our fourth… When we arrived, all I could think was: “Wow!” Munia was perfectly visible, resting below a bushwillow shrub, with what was left of the zebra kill above. What a moment. This is a memory that I will remember for a lifetime. The guides certainly know how to create a magical experience for our guests!
Words and photos by: William Knight, NJ MORE student placement