Honey-thorn Female has become quite a celebrity all around the world as she is the only adult Leopard habituated to vehicles that has managed to survive on Erindi Private Game Reserve since the Global Leopard Project began in 2007.  The research has revealed a higher mortality rate of 33% on adult leopards than on cubs (7% mortality rate) born over the past 4 years – a very unusual discovery.  In 2010, this female leopard nearly became part of the mortality statistics when she was found with a broken thigh bone on her hind leg. This amazing leopard managed to survive the ordeal and her leg miraculously healed over a 3 month period. At the end of her healing time, she gave birth to her first litter of cubs, 2 males.

 in January 2012 – she appeared again, this time with a very shy single cub

Again this female leopard rose to the challenge & she managed to raise these two youngsters, her first litter, to independence.  Honey has fought hard against all of nature’s odds and in January 2012 – she appeared again, this time with a very shy single cub. It is not known if this cub had a sibling early in life that he lost, but he is unusually scared of anything that moves or makes a noise.  In late March 2012, his mother led him to his first warthog kill. It is normal for cubs to start eating meat at 3 months of age but this youngster with his fearful nature, appeared to be a huge frustration for Honey as he took an incredibly long time to start on the kill as he spent all his time running away from everything he encountered including the well subdued meal!

After this kill, Honey left the small cub hidden in a drainage line & she headed out to furiously mark her territory. This seems to be an avid ritual with female leopards that have cubs to protect, possibly to warn any intruder leopards that the area is occupied and well defended.  When less than 2 km from where she had begun, she spotted and captured another young warthog in front of a film crew doing a media story on Big Cat Conservation!  She again collected the cub which began to feed on his second meat meal, but very reluctantly!  She killed a warthog while with the youngster was with her and again he disappeared for hours

Honey has taken to moving with the small cub which is also unusual behaviour for leopards. She killed a warthog while with the youngster was with her and again he disappeared for hours as he seemed terrified of the rare learning experience! The mother eventually called him out of hiding and when he climbed the tree where the kill was hoisted, the adult female had to place the warthog right in front of him to encourage him to start eating!

Although it is said to not be correct to give human emotions to animals, especially for research purposes, what is noted with this leopard cannot be ignored. When the research vehicle is with Honey-thorn Female & her cub, she definitely appears to be trying to teach him that we are not dangerous. She continually moves to a close distance from the vehicle and she acts playfully, rolling & scratching trees wile constantly calling and giving assuring “chuffing” sounds to him. The cub responds by appearing out of thickets but as soon as he spots the vehicle, he drops his body low, turns and again he disappears for long periods of time. His mother has taken to encouraging him in this manner every time the vehicle is nearby but the cubs response is always the same.

Sadly, even with exposure every day to vehicles, he may never accept us following and viewing him… but only time will tell.

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Wild Dog Conservation at Erindi