Ghosts In The Shadows (The Leopards of Mjejane)
By Stefenie Botha
Leopards are elusive cats that live in the shadows of the bush. Their beautiful patterned coat provide the perfect camouflage as they wander through the tall grass and thickets. Luckily every now and then they award us a glimpse of their solitary lives and provide us with fantastic game drives.
Mjejane Game Reserve has only recently experienced frequent leopard sightings. Before 2019 we only had glimpses of these ghosts that patrol the shadows and are seldomly seen. My first sighting of a leopard was in 2015. We turned a corner and down the road a white-tipped tail swayed from side to side as she walked down the road. We approached slowly, she moved off and went to lie on the perfect rocky outcrop. We sat in silence watching the shadow queen take in the last rays of sun.
Over the next few years we had regular sightings
of the old lady, in 2016 she had two male cubs.
We watched them grow into beautiful grown
males, unfortunately the one son was last seen
with a snare around his neck. Reserve
management set out cages to capture the
animal to remove the snare, but with no
success. During September 2017, while
attempting to catch the male cub, we caught
their mother. The vets darted her for
examination, it was confirmed that she was
nearly 10 years old by then. She was reported to
be lactating, indicating that she had new cubs.
We never sighted her male cubs again, however
the old lady still provided some glimpses over
the last couple of years.
In 2018 we were surprised to find her with a new cub, unfortunately it seems as if it did not survive. The old lady is coming of age and a new, younger female is threatening to take over. The old female’s days are number. She was last seen in December 2019.
During 2019 a female leopard and her two cubs were frequently seen across from Mjejane, on the banks of the Crocodile River. It wasn’t until late 2019 that this same female was first seen in Mjejane, except she only had one surviving cub, a young female. The young female is very relaxed around the safari vehicles and gives us exceptional sightings, sometimes leading us to believe that we could possibly be in the Sabi Sands area. Her mother on the other hand is a shadow spirit, only allowing us to see glimpses of her. The mother leopard has taken over the eastern section of Mjejane, spending most of her days around Mjejane Dam. This has led to us believing that the old leopard has been dethroned, as she once dominated the prey rich area around the dam. Recently the mother leopard has abandoned the young female cub and was seen courting with our resident male.
Leopards can have considerably large territories, taken into account the abundance of resources. Mjejane has large impala herds, a significant number of warthogs, high densities of duiker and sufficient water all year round, making it a leopard paradise. According to some research done by the guides, it has been concluded that five different leopards’ traverse on Mjejane, this includes four females and one lucky male. Further investigation on leopard identification is underway.