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Let’s admit it, leopards frequently rank at the top of both guest and guide favourite animals in Africa. There is a certain grace that befalls this big cat, with instincts and physiology so well defined that many believe it is only seen when it chooses. As visitors past and present will testify, we are fortunate to see a lot of leopards at Chiawa. It is not uncommon for our guests to see several different individuals during their stay with total sightings rising into double figures.

Unsurprisingly therefore, the leopard cub, when found, is probably the most photographed infant animal that we come across. The combination of woolly close-set rosettes, broad round paws and bright brown eyes are irresistible…

 

Leopard Cub 2

 

For the first 6-10 days after just over three months in the womb, the 400-600g leopard cubs are born completely blind and are usually hidden in tree hollows, dense thickets and even termite mounds! Six weeks can pass before they venture from hiding, intermittently following their mother around her territory, honing those instinctive skills of climbing, crouching, stalking and pouncing. Weaning occurs at 3 months by which a firm appetite for meat has developed and bodyweight has soared to around 3kgs. Youngsters usually start participating in hunts after 5-6 months but mothers will still leave cubs for sustained periods; sometimes for a day or more whilst in search of food but never straying more than a couple of kilometres away. Vulnerability is without doubt increased during this time but, as leopard fathers do not participate in parenthood, someone has to be the bread (or meat) winner!

 

Leopard Cub

 

The maternal bond is kept between a mother and offspring for around two years when they split to form their own territories. Interestingly, we recently witnessed the coming together of one older adult female, her two 16 month old cubs and another adult female at a kill made by the mother. We can only assume that the younger adult was an elder offpsring and that still, after years of parting, she was still allowed to share food at the family table. Another admirable trait that makes the leopard an all the more worthy animal to spend time with.

For regular updates on all our leopards (and leopard cubs!) as well as other interesting sightings please follow us on Facebook or visit our website to sign up to our quarterly newsletters!

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Talisai with Leopard

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On a rare quiet day in the middle of a busy July, we as camp managers were afforded the opportunity to treat our general staff to a surprise game drive.

Anyone that has been to our camps will know how hard our staff work. Housekeepers, waiters and chefs are often up at 4am to prepare fresh tea and coffee, baking breads, muffins and setting up extensive breakfast buffets. Work continues throughout the day with room cleaning, lunch and dinner services as well as goods issues, routine maintenance, linen washing and even time to practice for the evening choir performance!

Staff Photo

                                  Our Wonderful Staff! From left to right: Brenda, Bart, Moses, Febby,Talisai, Aston & Spencer

A Break in Routine…

A huge buzz flew around the camp when the news broke. Who would go? And when? “Where is my camera!?” “What will we see!?” There was infectious excitement, particularly from our new female staff contingent, some of which had never seen many of the animals present in the park.

Two vehicles went in the morning, two in the afternoon to give all staff a chance to get out and explore. Sightings did not disappoint. The brimming smiles that accompanied their owners at the beginning of the drive, remained upon return to camp. We were greeted with stories of leopards lazing, wandering waterbuck, elephants wallowing and a crowned eagle feasting on an unlucky baboon.

Guiding with a Local Perspective…

It was also an interesting break in affairs for our pro guides Chris Farao and Spencer Chizuwa. Offers to guide in the local language, Chinjanya, were quickly rebuked with chants of “We want to be treated like your normal guests!” followed by wails of laughter. As well as being a chance to physically see the local flora and fauna, the drives presented the prospect to cross-reference behaviours of the same animals seen in both the outer lying villages and within the park. In particular, there was genuine shock at the relaxed nature of the elephants. No longer were they aggressive crop raiders but gentle giants gorging on a natural diet, oblivious to the presence of people.

 

Talisai's 'Wild Bush Cows'

                                                                                   Talisai’s ‘Special Bush Cows’…

 

Perhaps the highlight of the activity was when one of our housekeepers, Talisai, ordered the vehicle to a halt and pointed at a multitude of rounded hoof prints in the mud. “Wait! Who has brought cows in here??” Turning around, with a wry smile and a glint in his eye, Spencer replied “The cow you are referring to is called a buffalo, they are special bush cows that are able to lead each other without our help, they brought themselves here!” After the scenes of hilarity had calmed, it was time to return home and back to work.

All agreed it was a welcome surprise.

 

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