Leopards are solitary cats by nature. They are comfortable on their own. Female leopards lead less solitary lives than males, as they bear young and spend much time with their cubs. Male leopards have little to do with raising their offspring.
It is sometimes said that the big cats are poor mothers, but it should always be remembered that the task of raising cubs is not an easy one.
A leopard and her cub playing in Botswana.
Mother leopards have to leave their cubs almost every day in order to go hunting. Very young cubs have to stay behind where the mother leaves them and very quickly learn to wait. There are a number of other animals that will kill and eat very young leopard cubs, including pythons, baboons and hyenas. Despite the serious challenges and dangers involved, there are many mother leopards that do a good job of looking after their cubs. Some even find the time and energy to spend playing with their cubs.
We currently have just such a female in the game drive area around At Savuti Camp in Botswanas far north Linyanti region. At the time of these images, the cub is approximately five months old and very playful.
A young leopard plays with her moms tail.
I recently managed to spend some time watching the pair after the female had killed an impala and carried it up a tree. Both mom and daughter had full stomachs and were asleep when I arrived at the sighting. As the afternoon came to an end, the cub decided that it was no longer time to sleep and set about trying to wake her mother. The cub was particularly fascinated by her mother’s tail and attacked it continuously. The tolerant mother leopard at first tried to ignore her daughter, but when this failed, she gave in and began to play.
Mom and daughter enjoying some play time.
The next day when the two cats had completely finished their meal and were walking away, the cub again took to playfully attacking her mother, who responded with enthusiasm, as the images show.
For me it is always a privilege to witness this special bond that exists between mother and cub.
Text and images by Grant Atkinson