Beverly’s photographs appear in March 2016 National Geographic magazine

I could be in the presence of leopards every minute of each day. Around 2003 [my husband] Dereck [Joubert] and I were fortunate to discover a newborn leopard cub. We had been tracking its mother for a few days. She led us to her den, where we met this tiny little fluffy fur ball, who we later called Legadema.

Legadema wobbled around her mother’s feet, very vulnerable. I instantly fell in love with this precious little creature. She was so exquisite in every way, from her camouflaged, beautiful fur coat to those piercing eyes. As she grew, her steel-blue eyes turned an incredible shade of bright amber, and they were always attentive.

She was filled with curiosity while she explored and investigated the forest. On many days she stared right at me, appearing to understand that we were not there to harm her but to protect her species. Her eyes would show compassion, which is so much of what I felt in her company.

The moments we spent with this mother and daughter were a lesson in caring and compassion. Their attention to each other, as if nothing else mattered, was part of the love affair I started feeling for all leopards. This moment changed our lives. For three and a half years we followed this inquisitive little cat. She seduced us to the point that we had no choice but to become ambassadors for leopards. —Beverly Joubert

Lessons of the Hunt

A mother leopard can teach her cub many things about surviving in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. But some skills a cub must pick up on her own – often through life-threatening experiences.

She was eight days old when we spotted her.Her eyes were still milky gray, and she wobbled slightly. Emerging into the sunlight from her den, she seemed curious and bold, taking no notice of screeching squirrels.Her mother had lost five previous cubs to hyenas, baboons, and other predators.What would happen to this one?

Unlike lions or cheetahs, leopards are secretive, solitary cats.Without a family to depend on, they hunt alone, slinking through the shadows, surviving on stealth and intelligence. Finding any leopard is difficult, so when we discovered this mother and cub in the thick groves of ebony and acacia trees at Mombo, an area in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, we decided to follow the little one as she grew up.

From her first days, Legadema, as we came to call her (“light from the sky” in the Setswana language), was under constant threat. Whether it was a troop of baboons that tried to drag both mother and daughter out of their den, or the lurking hyenas, death was never far away. Lions, a significant threat to young leopards, thrive in this part of the Moremi Game Reserve. But none of this kept Legadema from exploring the forest on her own when her mother left her alone for days at a time to bring back meat.Wherever Legadema went, vervet monkeys with darting eyes spotted her a mile off, and squirrels set up alarm calls. In time, these incidents only made her better at concealment and stealth.

Her mother, a patient teacher, instructed Legadema in the skills she would need to survive as a predator: how to pin down prey and where to clamp on their throats with her jaws to suffocate them. Only after mastering these and many other lessons would she grow into the solitary hunter that all leopards must one day become.

Text and Images by Beverly Joubert

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The Unlikely Leopard

This is the coming-of-age story about Dikeledi, a somewhat clumsy male leopard struggling to get the hang of, well, being a leopard. The special by award-winning filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert follows c as he grows into his oversized paws and eventually moves away from his mother, his provider and protector. See every frustrating failed stalking until he eventually gets it right and witness his personality and confidence grow as he becomes a stealthy and effective hunting machine.

The Unlikely Leopard will be released on National Geographic Wild Channel on the 15th July in the USA at 9pm.