No Love Lost: Nyelethi Update
The remains of a young impala ram were hooked over a branch in the Jackalberry tree. As we looked up the guests gasped in unison at the realization that we had stumbled upon a leopard kill. Only when the Crested Francolins began alarming and the small Nyelethi young female leopard walk down the game trail did my heart start to beat with excitement! Having earlier seen male leopard tracks in the vicinity I now knew there were possibly two leopards in the area.
As the Nyelethi young female hesitantly approached the stashed carcass, we could see it was not her kill. Tentative at first, she suddenly plucked up the courage and in one motion was up and at the impala, tearing at the pieces of flesh.
The only daughter of the Nyelethi female, this leopard has grown up in the north with two male siblings. Independence beckons for these three leopards at the age of 17 months. It’s a difficult age for leopards, a time when your all-providing mother, starts to leave you to shape your own destiny. And for the Nyelethi young female, she still has a lot to learn.
Halfway through feeding her playful attack on the limp carcass unhooked it from the tree. She spun around and swiped into thin air trying in desperation to hold onto the kill. For a split second, no one dared to breathe as the impala fell and thudded onto the ground. She immediately clambered down the tree trunk and within no time was pulling at the impala trying to get it back into the tree.
Suddenly, a noisy blur erupted out of the neighboring tree and a male leopard, came aggressively storming out to regain control of the kill he had obviously made. It was the Nyelethi young male and he proceeded to chase his sister high up another tree, spitting, growling and snarling! No love was lost between these siblings. He ran back to his kill and in a hurry started to feed; clearly worried that high density of resident hyenas would steal his prize.
The Nyelethi young female tried time and time again to get down from her new tree but her brother seemed to be enjoying the fact that she was cornered. Whilst he lay at the foot of this tree eating his prize she could not do anything but climb higher and look on.
It was a truly spectacular 2 hours of leopard viewing. Without doubt one of the most moving and exciting pieces of animal behavior I have witnessed in my guiding career. What struck me about the incident was that whilst the little sister had been investigating and feeding on the kill, her brother was sitting a mere 20 meters away watching. He had no issues with letting her eat his kill as long as it was safe in the tree. The moment the carcass hit the floor however, his personality changed completely and he turned very aggressive. It seemed as though he was happy to help his sister eat but as soon as she dropped his kill, compromising its safety, that’s when he decided that blood relations meant nothing.
What do you think about the interaction between these two leopard siblings? Bear in mind that neither of them is fully independent. Leave your thoughts, comments and questions in the comments section below.