The Life of a Leopard

"You can see it in our faces in the film, there was this deep sense of relief almost, almost like a weight had been lifted off of our shoulders. It wasn't overwhelming joy, but just relief that she was still alive," Dereck said.

"She straight away ran down the tree and came toward us and acknowledged us, and that was remarkable. This is a truly wild animal," Beverly said. "And she acknowledged us with those beautiful amber eyes, just stared up into our eyes. And we could see that we were still accepted into her world, which I must tell you is an incredible privilege."

Legadema was 4½ years old, all grown up, healthy, and had taken over half of her mother's territory. She was strong and predatory, but was still trying to survive.

"She has to, on a daily basis, to do a fair amount of territorial patrolling and marking because she doesn't want anybody else into her area, including her mother, I must tell you. And she will be mated every three months until it takes, and of course she'll have cubs," Beverly said.

"Leopards are extremely vulnerable. She's small. She's a small-built cat even though she's an adult," Dereck said. "And lions, the minute they see a leopard they'll chase them up trees and try to pull them down and kill them. Hyenas are always stealing her food from her, but her biggest danger really is the baboons. The baboons, the minute they see a leopard in this area, will mob a leopard and try to rip it to pieces."

But if she's lucky, she'll live to raise cubs and die of old age when she's about 12.

The Jouberts plan to keep coming back to this place in Botswana, documenting other wildlife, but paying particular attention to this one big cat — and the violence and beauty that is the natural cycle of a leopard's life.

"Living With Big Cats" premieres Saturday on the National Geographic Channel.

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