A glance into the life of a 6-month old LEOPARD cub

Leopards:   Elusive, powerful, somewhat scary.    One of the original BIG FIVE.   A safari goers dream sighting. 

There is something about a leopards amber eyes, the way he moves, the silkiness of his coat, the length of his whiskers, the pattern of his fur, the strength and athleticism that just draws people in and I am no exception.

The leopard - up close and personal

Look how he balances on that little branch! Athleticism

With the leopard usually being the most difficult to see of the big five (and even more challenging to spend time with), imagine the absolute thrill of seeing a leopard cub!

I've been one of the lucky ones to catch many glimpses of leopard cubs.

young leopard cubs

But this is the tale of one sighting of an approximate 6 month old leopard cub from Sabi Sabi, South Africa,  that gave us a peak into about 45 minutes of her day and her mom, known as Ntsumis, the hero.

I was on a group photographic workshop run by Wild-Eye.   Our vehicle got the call that there was a leopard sighting and we were in the general vicinity of the sighting trying to find the leopard mom and cub.

Then from nowhere, we heard an ANGRY elephant bellow.   It's an eerie sound that somehow touches you all the way to your bones.   We could FEEL it as well as hear it.

Elephants are one of my favorite animals.   I could sit in a herd for days on end and never get bored with watching and listening to them.  Their social structure is fascinating.  The sound the elephants make - even quiet walking and the sound of the grass being torn from the earth - keep me mesmerized.  Everything about them fascinates me.

However, angry elephants are DANGEROUS elephants.   The power behind them is enough to break trees and flip trucks.  They can kill lions and throw buffalo into the air.

We drove around the corner and saw one elephant eating in the thick brush.  We drove a bit further and we saw another elephant even deeper in the brush, at the moment, neither appeared angry.

Elephant deep in the brush

.... and then we saw HER.   A small 6 month old leopard cub.   She skitted from the open grassy area back into the thick bush where the second elephant was eating.  

There was a ruckus from the bush and a tree started shaking...

Where is she?  WHERE IS SHE?

A glimpse of leopard spots thru the branches

Leaves shaking further up the tree


She had definitely caught his attention again

His trunk up high in the air poking into the branches of the tree trying to find her

And further up, branches rustling and moving...she's climbing further up

A glimpse of the spot pattern

The elephant getting angrier

A loud crunching sound and the tree stats to bed over from the weight of the elephant pushing it over

Adrenaline and fear in the car for the cub's life...

Looking for escape routes for her - as if somehow we could telepathically help her escape

Then from nowhere -mom came  

Straight up the tree 

Larger spots through the tree branches

More shaking... more pushing...

Then, the elephant backed of

I would have LOVED to have heard the conversation between the leopard mama and the elephant

What did she do?

A leopard is no threat to an elephant

We had no visual of what transpired in the thicket except that the elephant stopped trying to knock the tree down

The mama leopard after the elephant left the area

And then mama and baby walked briskly out of the thicket

Phew... a relief that could be felt in the air

Can you imagine how scary that must have been for the leopard cub?

A huge elephant trunk pushing through those branches at her - smelling and snorting

Her normally secure footing in the tree being shaken by the elephant determined to knock the tree over

Confident by her mom's side again, we followed the pair thru the thickets of South Africa.  It was getting dark and we didn't know if mom was going to go hunting or taking her to a new hiding place.

Walking through tall grass and thickets

Mama and baby off to their next adventure

Leopards, although incredibly powerful are constantly in danger.  The cubs more so, but even adults can be killed by lions, buffalo, a pack of hyena, and even a troop of baboons can kill and adult leopard.  

Cubs can be easily killed by the above and also by male leopards.   They also don't have the experience that an adult has to evade a pursuer.

It was getting very dark and even though the reserve allows spot lighting nocturnal animals, since she was so young, she could not be lit with artificial light.  

It appeared that mama had hidden her to go hunting and we were gathering ourselves to leave also.

When all of a sudden, the title girl was back on the road, out of her hiding spot - and a distance behind her, we saw 2 hyenas approaching.

Hyenas will often follow other predators in hopes of stealing an easy meal.  They would not hesitate for an instant to kill the young cub.

Even though hyenas killing a leopard cub is the natural way of life in the bush, it is something that no one in my vehicle wanted to witness.   Some things in nature are so much harder to witness than others.

We held our breath - and you can hear in the video below..

the concern and relief when the cub scampered up a tall tree to safety. (Video courtesy of Gerry van de Walt of Wild-Eye.)

We had to back up the vehicle to allow nature to do what she was going to do and waited with bated breath - all we could see was the silhouette of the tree with the cub head and tail sticking out of the V in the tree.

We could also barely see the hyena and with a huge sense of relief, we saw them lose interest and leave the area.

We could continue our journey with the knowledge that the little cub had survived at least for one more night.

I don't know if this was an average 45 minutes for the cub, or if it was one of her more extreme hours... it makes me wonder - how much goes on in the wild that no one ever sees?   How remarkable is it that any cubs survive to adulthood?

I follow the Sabi social channels and have not seen an update...but the awesome Ranger Graeme from Sabi Sabi  read the story and messaged me with an update.   The cub is doing well and is growing like crazy!!!!

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts about this little leopard cub and a brief look into her life!   

Did you like this safari tale?   

Lipstick – My tribute to this majestic lion, Masai Mara Kenya

My love affair with Kenya started 26 years ago.   Oh, I could tell you it’s because of the people – so kind, welcoming, and generous of spirit…or because of the amazing animals and wildlife areas.   But truly, it’s always been because of the way being in Kenya makes me feel.    From the first moment I placed my foot on the ground, I truly felt a sense of home, of acceptance, of belonging.

My emotions in Kenya run the gamut from awe and wonder to anguish and heartbreak.  Mother Nature is truly at her finest in Kenya and nature shows all of her sides.

After a 23 year absence, my love for Kenya was rekindled in August 2015 – and once again, my heart was set on fire.  During that trip, I “met” some of my favorite big cats.  My curiosity and desire to know more about them, has had me return time and again to Kenya.

This is my story of “Lipstick”.   I didn’t know his name the first time I saw him, but the first day I got to spend time with him is etched in my memory forever.

August 26, 2015

On our mad dash back to the lodge because it was late and getting very dark –  we spotted them – the BIG BOYS!    The ones I have been dying to see.    2 big black-maned lions!    We couldn’t stay – it was late and getting really dark….so a quick snap and then lots of prayers to the universe that we would get to see them again.

The Magnificent Lion, Lipstick, from the Masai Mara, Kenya. My first sighting of the big black mane lions of the Mara
August 28, 2015

The morning came quickly as it always did – crisp and cold, so unexpected when you are in Africa.   I was beyond excited for the day – because today, I get to be with one of my favorite guides, Edwin alone!   Everyone else in my photography group chose to visit a village – which left me alone on safari.

Edwin asked me what I wanted to see.  The guides really can’t control what nature shows us, but they DO have this uncanny 6th sense of finding situations and animals.

So, I told him – I wanted the big black-maned boys!   Like the ones we had seen 2 days before.  So off we went in the dark of the morning, headlights on, to search for these magnificent lions.

About 15 minutes out of camp, Edwin stopped the car and pointed.   I have no idea how he saw anything – the migration was late this year and the honey-colored grass was tall – probably over 5′ in some areas AND it was still really dark!  I figured he saw rocks – but we decided to get closer to see what we could see.

And there they were – 2 of the most beautiful lions I had ever seen.   They had these magnificent black manes and were HUGE!   There were also lionesses and cubs a little ways off finishing their meal from the night before.

Lipstick with his lady friend. Pre-dawn in August 2015. My first chance to spend time with the beautiful black-maned lions.

Edwin and I stayed with the pride for over 2 hours.   I didn’t see much of Lipstick that day, as he chose to stay in the tall grass with his “lady friend”, but my love for him and his brother, Blackie, their “girls” and cubs started that day.    I spent the 2+ hours watching and photographing the moms and the cubs, and Blackie came out of the grass for a little while too.

Blackie and Lipstick’s pride in the Masai Mara, Kenya. Mom with an older male cub. Notice his little mane tufts.
Lipstick and Blackie’s pride. I stayed with them for over 2 hours and watched the interaction between the lionesses and the cubs as well as the cubs playing together. Three cubs of different ages.
Lipstick and Blackie’s pride. A mother and her cub.
Blackie, Lipstick’s brother, interacting with one of the pride cubs.
January 10, 2016

My next encounter with Lipstick and his brother and pride was 5 months later.   My safari vehicle got a notice that there was a pride of lions on an eland kill.   The pride had successfully taken an eland sometime the day or night before.   This is a very difficult feat and demonstrated the strength and teamwork that the pride was able to maintain.   When we arrived, most of the eland was eaten.   The females and cubs, chubby from their meal were off a ways sleeping off their food coma (well, the mamas were trying – but the cubs kept using them as jungle gyms).   Blackie had just walked off and Lipstick was still feasting on dinner.   Lipstick’s tummy was protruding and round like a watermelon – but he was determined to have more.   We stayed with them for the remainder of the afternoon.

Lipstick with his super round belly continues to feast on the eland kill.


HE thinks that this is yummy!


Beautiful Lipstick in the grasslands.


A display of fleming – where the lion uses all his senses to “smell” the air.


Lipstick, such a beautiful specimen of a lion.
January 12, 2016

My group was lucky enough to see him, his brother, the cubs and mamas again a few days later.   We stayed with them most of the afternoon and mostly hung out with the mamas and cubs.   There were several ages of cubs, including one pretty tiny cub.   We thought he must have just recently been introduced to the pride because he was so little – the mom even tried to carry him a few times when he fell behind.

Regal Lipstick
Lipstick, one of the Kings
The females and cubs go off in search for shade.
Mom checking on the littlest member of the pride.
On a mission


The little one nuzzling with mom.

January 14, 2016

Mother nature showed her tragic side today.   It is always difficult for me to watch an animal die…but nature makes it so one animal has to die so others can survive…and whenever I see an animal being killed, I comfort myself with that thought.   Today, it was different.   Today, I had to bear witness to the baby cub from 2 days ago being killed – not for food – so there was no comfort here.    This is a very traumatic story and one for another day.

Blackie and Lipstick and the rest of the pride were not far.   But even as powerful as the two of them were, there was nothing they could (or would) do to save the little one.

After witnessing the destruction of a life so young, we went over to the Big Boys and the cubs.   The cubs didn’t seem to understand what had transpired, the other lionesses did.   Not sure if Lipstick and Blackie did or if they just “didn’t care”.   The cubs were trying Lipstick’s patience but it was nice to see them playful after witnessing such a traumatic event.    Even with Lipstick being grumpy, the
cubs still played around him anyway.

Lipstick tolerating one of the cubs.
Not too happy Lipstick being gentle with one of the cubs.
Good thing he knows how to be gentle.
July 17, 2017

I got to see my beloved Blackie and Lipstick again in July 2017.   He was with a lady friend on another honeymoon.   I only saw him on 2 occasions on that trip.  To my untrained eye, he looked to be in his prime and still extremely strong.

Looking healthy.
Beautiful Lipstick in the golden light.
Lipstick and his “lady friend”.
Creating the next set of cubs.
Wherever she goes, he will follow.
Ouch, a little blood.
Surveying his “kingdom”.
Taking a rest.
Sitting nicely for his portrait.


January 2018

I knew they were getting up in age and there are several young and strong coalitions in the area, so my goal on this trip was to spend as much time as possible with my beloved black maned boys.   Unfortunately, due to unexpected rains and river flooding, I was only able to see Lipstick and Blackie twice.

Lipstick starting to show his age.
Lipstick and part of his pride resting in the shade.
He looks tired here.
And he sleeps.

As I left the Mara, I had a feeling I may not see them again.    Through different facebook groups and Instagram, I am able to keep up with my beloved cats between trips.

It was with great sadness that on the morning of May 18, I saw the devastating picture of Lipstick – once a beautiful majestic huge powerful lion, reduced to skin and bones and no longer of this world.

A friend of mine gently reminded me instead of grief, I could rejoice in all the moments I got to experience his magnificence.   So, here is his tribute and some of my images of this incredibly beautiful and powerful lion.   A lion that made my journeys to the Mara that much more special and unforgettable.   May you rest in peace beautiful boy in whatever plain you belong to now.