Suzi Eszterhas is an award-winning wildlife photographer best known for her work documenting newborn animals and family life in the wild. Her photographs have been published in over 100 magazine cover- and feature stories, in publications such as TIME, Smithsonian, BBC Wildlife, The New York Times, Popular Photography, Ranger Rick, and National Geographic Kids. As an author, Suzi has 19 books in print, with another three in progress.
Suzy says, “Over the years I have had the privilege of photographing dens of several big cat species, including lions and cheetahs in East Africa, and tigers in India. However, true to their mysterious nature, leopards had eluded me. Until I met the camp female at Tubu Tree. Undoubtedly one of the most habituated and relaxed leopards in the world, she was the perfect subject for me to work with.
“I started photographing the cubs early last year when they were only six-weeks-old and still in the den. Since then I’ve made several return trips to document them at different ages as they grow up. Each time I return I am blown away by how much the cubs have grown and am immensely grateful that the mother has managed to keep them safe."
Seven-week-old cub nuzzling mother. The cubs seek physical contact from their mother regularly. Sometimes, even during an intense play session with each other, the cubs will abruptly break and return to their mother for a quick, reassuring nuzzle, and then resume playing.
Four-month-old leopard cub. Like all cats, leopards sleep 16-20 hours a day. They either doze in a light sleep or sleep very deeply. When dozing (which lasts about fifteen minutes to half an hour), they can spring up and into action at a moment’s notice. During deep sleep, they experience rapid brain movement. Deep sleep tends to last about five minutes, after which they go back to dozing. This dozing-sleep pattern goes on until the leopard wakes up.
Eight-month-old leopard cubs. The cubs are still incredibly playful at this more mature age, and are always eager to surprise each other.
Leopard mother and six-week-old cub. Although leopards lead solitary lives, the maternal bond between a mother and her cubs is strong and many months long. Just how many months varies. Most cubs stay with their mothers for 12-16 months, but a scientific study conducted last year showed that some mothers allow their cubs to hang around for as long as 35 months! Interestingly, the mothers allow males to stick around for two months longer on average.
Leopard mother and four-month-old cubs. When the mother returns from hunting, the cubs still get incredibly excited to see her, greeting her with exuberant nuzzles.
Four-month-old cubs playing. Sparring is becoming more and more like actual fighting, with a lot of loud growling and snarling involved. If you were just to hear the ruckus in the bushes, you’d be shocked to find out that it was all coming from young cubs.
Six-week-old leopard cub jumping on its mother. Leopard cubs are excessively playful, especially with their mothers. The cubs seemed absolutely obsessed with pouncing on their mother’s head, making it very difficult for her to get any rest.
Six-month-old leopard cub playing with its mother’s tail. Play for leopard cubs, as it is for many young predators, is often really about developing hunting skills.
Leopard and six-week-old cub. When not at a den, the mother would stash her cubs in a hole in a fallen tree. The hole was small enough that large predators, like baboons or lions, could not get in. When arriving back at the den, the mother would softly call them. Sometimes this call was so quiet it was barely audible. This to ensure that no other predators head it. A leopard mother’s best defense against predators is to keep the cubs safely hidden and she will go to great lengths to keep them concealed.
I have been so blessed to have spent so many special moments with this extraordinary mother and her two cubs.
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