Eight years ago, I was nearing the end of three years working as a camp manager in the Okavango Delta. I had been managing Little Mombo, and was taking with me a lifetime of indelible memories, from the beautiful Motswana people I had worked with and learned from, to the unbelievable experiences that living in one of the world’s most beautiful and remote wilderness areas gives you.
Mombo is a bucket list location, and visiting for even just two days lets you know why. In just over a year there I had witnessed many dream sightings, from a wild dog befriending jackals to watching a maned lioness chase off two male lions under the boardwalk, right below my feet.
The African bush is a wild place and so for every exhilarating moment, there were sometimes difficult moments too. It was December and I was taking advantage of as many game drives as possible before I left Botswana. As we drove out of camp, we were jittery with excitement, wondering what magical Mombo would surprise us with that day.
Not long into our drive we heard a small crying sound. We scanned the bush around us and saw a tiny leopard cub next to the road. It was so young its eyes had barely opened yet. We looked around and saw no sign of the cub’s mother. As the little cub cried and cried, we became increasingly concerned. The cub’s cries were likely to alert the plethora of predators in the area. The cub was vulnerable to so much: other leopards, lions, hyaenas, smaller carnivores like jackal, and even baboons. Not being able to interfere is incredibly difficult in these situations, and every part of me wanted to jump out of the vehicle and bundle the small cub into my arms.
Thankfully, before my nerves gave out, the cub’s mother arrived. Pula, daughter of the famous Legadima, heard her cub’s cries and quickly picked it up and jumped into the tree alongside them. She located the hole in the tree where she had been hiding her cubs and slid inside. We felt relieved, until we saw Pula quickly retreat from the hole.
A huge python had found the den and had eaten one of the cubs. Luckily the one we had found had fallen out of the hole. The python was still there when Pula returned, and so she had no choice but to take her surviving cub and try to find a new hideout for her baby – in the heat of the day. We followed the young mother as she jumped into trees and searched old termite mounds for a safe place. Eventually, she rested in a fallen tree, licking her little survivor.
Late last year I had the happy chance to return to Mombo. I was excited to see some of the friendly faces I had said goodbye to years before. Doc greeted us at the airstrip and whisked us off to the first of many amazing sightings, one of which was a beautiful female leopard posing in a tree.
While watching the leopard, Doc reminded us that this was the same leopard we had met several years earlier – Pula’s cub, the python survivor Marothodi. We could hardly believe it, watching the little cub that had been through so much, now grown up. I had barely stopped to think that I would not only be reunited with wonderful people at Mombo, but would be able to reconnect with some of the animals we had grown to know and love too. We sat and watched her for hours…not wanting to leave.
The following afternoon we found Marothodi again, but this time she had a surprise for us. In the late afternoon light she revealed her own two cubs, playful and energetic, bouncing through the trees and tormenting their mother. Watching Legadima’s great grandchildren as they climbed the same trees and ancient termite mounds that she had so many years ago was an unforgettable experience.
As the day ended, one of the cubs walked toward the vehicle and looked up at us, inquisitive and brave, just like all the other amazing leopards in this family line.
We left Marothodi and her cubs as the sun began to dip below the horizon, giving the clouds an enchanted pink and purple hue. Doc handed us celebratory glasses of champagne and we toasted Mombo’s leopards, each one with a story waiting to be told.
Written by Cayley Christos
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