What happens when a mother leopard and her cub embark on a life-or-death adventure in the wilds of the Okavango Delta? Wildlife photographer Alex Roldan was there to capture it all, and he's sharing his incredible story with us.
“The sun was high, casting its heat over the grassy plains of the Delta. In the distance, we spotted a mother leopard walking with purpose, her cub trotting along behind her. As we followed them, the cub became more and more excited, so we knew the mother had made a kill somewhere and was leading the cub to feed.
After tailing her for about twenty minutes we came to a heavily wooded area where she had stashed her impala kill in the undergrowth. At first, it appeared strange as to why the female hadn't at least started to feed on her prize, but then it became clear. She had left the impala intact so that her young cub could learn how to feed by itself. As I watched the cub struggle to break through the hide of the impala, I felt a mix of awe and empathy. This was a critical moment in its young life, and I was privileged to witness it firsthand.
As darkness fell, we couldn't help but wonder what fate had in store for the young leopard cub. Would it survive the night, or would it fall prey to one of the Delta's many predators?
The next morning, we followed up on the leopardess, her cub, and their prize only to find them both perched comfortably on the limbs of an old acacia tree. The cub eventually made its way down the tree, making a beeline towards the impala to feed as the mother half-snoozed on the branches above. After a brief feed, the cub and the mother started playing, stalking and pouncing on each other, rolling around through the appropriately named 'cat's tail' grass with its distinctive pink/purple flowers. Yet another life lesson for the cub as this playfighting will help defend itself later in life.
Later in the day, we decided to check up on the pair, only to find that a spotted hyena and a young male leopard had both discovered the site where the impala had been stashed. In such a bizarre situation; the hyena and both leopards were sharing the kill, sometimes feeding at the same time with growls of warning coming from all parties. Suddenly the friction broke between the leopards and they chased each other, tumbling through the thickets with roars and claws flying everywhere. We continued to follow the pair of leopards as they fought and started to settle. Then without so much of a warning, both leopards bolted up separate trees. A few short seconds later it became clear as to why... a pride of ten lions had heard the commotion and came to investigate.
The lions settled under the trees, ensuring their feline competitors were going to have to stay high up in the safety of the branches for some time. As darkness fell, we headed back to Chief's Camp wondering what might happen during the night. After all, there had been no sign of the leopard cub that afternoon. Had it been killed by either the hyena or the intruding male leopard...?
Before the break of dawn, we headed out, eager to see how the next chapter had unfolded during the night. As we rounded a corner with a wide expanse of grass and termite mounds before us, we saw a herd of impala on high alert. Once we got closer there was the sight that we'd all been hoping for. As we watched the mother and cub disappear into the thorny underbrush, we knew that their journey was far from over. But for now, they were safe and sound, and we felt grateful to have been a small part of their story.”