I have often entertained the prospect of mother predators having a favorite child, like some people. To your face most humans would never dare acknowledge the fact that one off their progeny had a larger space in their hearts, than the other. All children are perfect, and every mother has one.

Over the years I have watched moms demonstrating immense tolerance to one particular cub as opposed to their sibling or siblings. I have often written it off in lions in particular as the lioness seems to approach a cut off point, when dishing out affection and amounts and extents, and is largely determined by her mood at the time. Most commonly cubs that get attention clearly thrive on this intimate interaction and crave the sensation once it ceases and naturally, like all kids will push their luck to obtain more. But should she have had enough and a second cub seeks attention, she will usually cease her activitiy.
I have never really noticed much of a bias in leopards, but with Karula, there seems to be a closer bond between her and Luangwa than she has between her and Kafue. I am still in doubt as to whether it is Luangwa who is insecure or if it is his mom who is biased towards him. But I have a strong suspicion it is an interesting combination of the relationship between two.
I only really only began to mull it over in my mind, late one night upon being denied sleep by our darling Labrador, who has hip thrusting me in the back, to make more room for her on the bed, down to a fine art. As one of my daughters moves the other one seizes the gap and creeps up to place her precious, not so little head on my pillow and breathe dog breath in my face. Maybe it’s her breath the led my mind onto leopards. Both are carnivores.
Getting back to the kids, I went back through photographs that I had take of the kids during their juvenile months and amazingly a large proportion of the shots I have portraying any affectionate behavior, is between her and Luangwa. With out forgetting the third member of this interesting family union, Kafue, who during his juvenile upbringing was the one who had more confidence, curiosity, braveness, call it what you like, But he would nine times out of ten be the cub who would linger for a longer look at the throng of big, green, large monsters, adorned with admiring fans, following in his family’s wake, where as Luangwa would instantly want to be within pouncing distance of his mom’s side the moment he decide she was to far away from him.
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Kafue was even labeled as a female cub for a fair few months by an unobservant few.
I began mentally keeping check on their behavior together whenever I was with them, which was pretty much at every opportunity, she made herself available to us, and as like any mother, there were days you could tell that she would have preferred some family time without the inevitable green monster trio and adoring fans. So be the life of a modern leopard.
After a couple of months had drifted by like clouds through Africa, the trend was still there. I should mention that I did not deliberately only choose to take photographs of Luangwa and his beloved mom and none of Kafue and her but the times and opportunities of doing this were lean and it was not that she was overtly intolerant of Kafue, as she still has her moments with him and I would not go as far as to put him in an emotionally denied child category. The relationship between the boys has always been a good one, which comes as no surprise, as long as a little leopard has got something other than their mothers tail, to practice their stalking, tackling and killing techniques on, what more could you ask for other than a full belly?
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But there was one morning when I did see a small flash of aggression towards Luangwa, am I am very wary of applying human theories onto animals, as for any one to say they know or understand leopard or any wild animal for that matter, is simply out of there league. So by no means do I state this as fact. It is still interesting to kick the notion around. But on one morning in March we were fortunate enough to be the only green monster with her and the boys and after moving the kids around ended up at a spot she deemed suitable for a rest. She sat down and began to groom herself, the boys bounded off a short way but not for long, as Luangwa came back out the thicket to be with his mom and demand special attention.
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Which his mom duly gave him, after a short little clean up she decided to move a little way and lay down, followed by the darling boy, who lay down with her whom she proceeded to lavish with long, slow, cleaning licks. Kafue had since made an appearance and moved over to where his mom was spoiling his brother, only to be met by a vicious snarl and a nasty stare.
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The interesting this is that when it comes down to food Kafue is the one who has the edge over his brother and has often been the one to dive in first, upon being led to a kill and have witnessed this on more than one occasion. He is also very protective of his grub, to the extent that his brother knows to leave him to it. Luangwa will often have to lie and watch and wait until Kafue is happy, relaxed and fat.
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Judging by the expressions on his face at times, it seems to be a look well worth taking seriously. So it looks like Luangwa can’t have his cake and eat it, well at least not all of it. He also seems to be developing into a cheeky young adult, a good trend for a cat his age, a trait he gets from his mother. Kafue seems to be more laid back and does not hiss at the green monsters anywhere near as much as Kafue, who will only let you have it if you give him a start by mistake, other than that he is fast developing into a groovy little man. Just like his dad. Even up to our most recent time together, which was last week the bond between Karula and Luangwa seems to be as string as ever. After spending the previous evening with the Beacon female’s male cub, Malunda from five years ago who had had his supper stolen from him by one of the mother hyena’s of the local clan. A frustrating affair for him I’m sure as the hyena already had a full belly, before wolfing down most of the back portion of Malunda’s impala. Surprisingly enough Malunda being a big boy did not have the inclination to attempt to get his food back from the hyena. An accomplishment which should not have been beyond his capabilities as I have, in the past, seen many hyenas sent yelping off into the night having suffered a severe, bitch slapping session from various male leopards. His lack of commitment cost him his dinner as he moved off after about forty minutes after reanalyzing the situation from the outskirts. He clearly knew the hyena was well fed and at times seemed to appear to be leaving his carcass. But Malunda chose to leave, as eventually did the hyena after dragging the carcass away to the west, for around thirty or so meters, which is where she left it. Karula and her boys were found feeding on the remains of the carcass the next morning, typical of her kind and always the opportunist. We headed out later that afternoon to check on the situation and found Luangwa, lying in the shade of an always green gwarri bush, looking very lonely. Shortly after our arrival he noticed a young hog heading down to tree house dam, which fired up his instincts, in an instant he went from a cub missing his mommy to killer. Well want to be killer.
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With a fat tummy he made a good effort at stalking the hog, only to learn the warthogs aren’t dumb, as the hog soon picked him up and took off, taking Luangwa’s reputation as a killer with it. After heading off for a drink at the dam he was now missing his mommy and began squeaking out these kitten like “chirrups”, a sound, my cubs would occasionally make if they couldn’t see me and making all, the woman on my vehicle go “ahhhhh” in unison. Personally I thought he was a bit of a drip as I have seldom gotten on with “mommy Boys”.
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He was in luck though, as his mommy was in the area and no doubt saw her darling’s failure at catching hogs, and came out to check on him. I clearly don’t need to say anything about the way they feel about each other as the next picture speaks for itself.
Image Title Image Title after their meeting Karula proceeded to move to a shady tree, followed closely buy the beloved little boy where she once again lavished him with the affection he craved. Karula seemed to enjoy his attentions as much as he did hers, although she clearly was giving more than receiving.
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Kafue had appeared on the scene by this stage and walked straight through the middle of this mass of caressing tongues, giving his mom a head rub and push in the face with his bum on the way through and was totally ignored, he tried once again and was met with the same lack of interest him, after which he moved off to be by himself.
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I mean really she may as well let Luangwa walk all over her.
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Personally I am on the Kafue support team, besides his mother and his brother aren’t in my top four favorite leopard category.
It is a pity to think that they will vanish into the realm of unknown and speculation, in between another year or three, forced out of the here, by the starkness of his life’s options. Available leopard land is a rare commodity on this planet, a sad fact of our reality. Truth shouts out in the saying “you only truly appreciate something, once it has gone”, so do all in your power, with your time on earth to secure more land for these intricately fascinating relationships.