Summer has arrived at Xigera and it is quite beautiful. We have had enough rain for the floodplains and islands to have a lush green coat. The air is clean and fresh and the summer skies dramatic, I love this time of the year.
Yesterday morning, as I do every morning, I met with Lesh after he had cleared the Lodge area for the construction workers and we set off to see what the day would bring. We went up to the north of the lodge, as the sky in the south was dark with cloud and the promise of rain, and the weather looked a lot friendlier where we were going. We alternated between driving and stopping to listen, as we made our way east onto the floodplains and heard the distant roar of a lion. We had seen two young nomadic males the evening before and assumed this was them heading towards Chiefs Island, hunting as they went.
We were looking for sign of our wonderful lone lioness, which Lesh had been lucky enough to see a week or so before. She is called Sisilia and around late March last year, she had five cubs close to the Xigera airstrip. I last saw her in September when she was frantically searching for her cubs, after she had been out hunting; we didn't see her reunited with them. Raising cubs as a lone lioness without a pride is not easy and I was hoping they were safe somewhere.
When Lesh found them recently, she had four healthy cubs with her, aged around eight months and looking great. When Sisilia was pregnant she often spent the day either in or close to the camp. For whatever reason, she was comfortable here and being a social animal, might just have enjoyed the sound of the camp comings and goings around her whilst she rested.
Lesh managed to sex three of the cubs and there were two young males and one female. We are hoping the other cub is also female, so this can be the start of a resident Xigera pride and Sisilia will have the company of her offspring the rest of her days.
We moved on when we found no sign of her, deciding she must have moved further east with the cubs. We circled round on the floodplains past the big tree towards the area of the three famous sausage trees. We often stop for drinks at this spot and it has been the site of many great wildlife sightings. We chose to follow the road around the floodplain, as it was nearing 9am and then Lesh spotted Madiphala, our oldest leopard lying next to a scrubby fan palm. For an old leopard, her condition is amazing; it’s only her ragged ears that give her age away as her body is of a cat half her age.
We spent the next two hours with her. She started off by drinking and then a breeding herd of elephants came onto the floodplain. She was definitely hunting and interested in several groups of impala feeding on the floodplains. They never quite came close enough to where she was hiding in the cover for her to have a chance of a kill. Whenever she moved we followed at a respectful distance, hoping she might meet up with her cub Tshameko, but unfortunately this didn't happen. We left her in peace asleep in some Croton scrub and finally got back to the lodge for a late breakfast.
Overall, it was the most wonderful drive and so typical of what can happen in the summer. There were lots of animals to see on the floodplain, interspersed with great elephant sightings, and of course, keeping up with this ledgendary leopard. She is truly one of the great animals of Xigera.