Many years ago I was lucky enough to encounter the Mashaba 3:3 Female one late afternoon in May.  She was full from eating an impala which she had stalked and killed two days prior.  This female leopard had recently secured a prominent territory for herself in an area along the Sand River, just to the east of the Londolozi camps, and for the first time looked as though she was confident in her seat as a now dominant female leopard of Londolozi.


The Mashaba Female sits atop a termite mound in newly established territory CIRCA 2011. Note the prominent spot on her pink nose which is an easy way to quickly identify this leopard. Photograph by: Rich Laburn

And so it was with a sense of nostalgia that we happened upon the the newly dominant Nkoveni 2:2 female on a blissful Friday evening game drive.  Her rich golden coat and slightly rotund head are indicative of her genealogy and in particular she presented a striking resemblance her mother, the Mashaba 3:3 Female, with the exception of the uniquely prominent spot on her mother’s nose.


The Nkoveni Female looks at a nearby herd of impala whilst Ranger Melvin Sambo observes her movements with his guests. Photograph by: Rich Laburn

The Londolozi field team have always had a soft spot for the Mashaba 3:3 Female, ever since she was born and raised by the Vomba 3:2 Female in the period from 2008 to 2010.  Having reached independence fairly early on for a female leopard, the Mashaba 3:3 Female usurped some of her mother’s territory in the prime region along the Sand River and further south through a series of productive drainage lines which she would frequent on a routine basis.  The Mashaba female gave birth to her first litter of cubs in late August 2012 and of these two cubs that were born, the Nkoveni female has survived and now reached adulthood.

There would have been numerous sightings and pictures of this beautiful female leopard on the Londolozi blog since 2012 and indeed her first mention was on Talley Smith’s The Week in Pictures 52 where it was also suggested that the Marthly 3:2 Male is her likely father.  Speaking of fathers, it was Talley’s dad who showcased the first picture of the Mashaba Young Female a in December 2012 on his guest blog The Week in Pictures 63


The Mashaba Young Female, nervous of vehicles, dashes into a palm thicket. Photography by: Henry Smith

Because of her relatively isolated first few months in the Sand River, it was a while before she was habituated to the Land Rovers, but over a two week period at about seven months of age she suddenly relaxed noticeably, and subsequent sightings were all far easier to manage.  By the time March 2013 rolled around, James Tyrrell was regularly featuring her on his weekly TWIPS.


The Mashaba Young Female casually follows her mother down a dirt track. Confident and relaxed, she offered incredible viewing to guests during this transition from cub to sub-adult. Photography by: James Tyrrell


With images such as these, it is easy to see the 2:2 spot pattern on either side of her nose which is another reliable way to identify specific leopards at Londolozi and indeed the world over. Photography by: James Tyrrell

2014 was a formative year for the Mashaba Young Female as she spent increasingly lengthy periods of time apart from her mother, yet still in the general vicinity of her territory.  Many  sightings of her were in and around the Sand River and occasionally in front of camp.  The troubled cries of crested francolin in the early morning and late afternoons were a sure sign that she was slipping by, seemingly unnoticed by staff and guests.  Around April 2014 she was showcased again in Mike Sutherland’s post detailing The Rise of a Future Generation of leopards at Londolozi and here she was now one of the standout ‘young guns’ getting ready to take her place as one of Londolozi’s most loved and well known female leopards.

It was however, only in the middle of 2015 that this leopard really reached independence and began securing her own territory in exactly the same area that her mother (Mashaba) had “borrowed” from her mother (Vomba).  And so the Mashaba 2:2 Young Female received the name the Nkoveni 2:2 Female.  Nkoveni, loosely translated from Shangaan, means “At the river” and this fitting name was given to her owing to the majority of her sightings being in and around the Sand River to the east of camp.


The Nkoveni 2:2 Female has spent almost all of her life in the area to the east of camp along the Sand River. A highly productive slice of riverine bushveld, this is amongst the most prime territory for leopards at Londolozi.

Fittingly she also received her very own feature post on the Londolozi blog in November 2015 and Simon Smit showcased some truly spectacular images of this leopard as a young adulthood.


The Nkoveni 2:2 Female in black and white. With whiskers on full display, this image showcases an elegant female leopard about to reach full maturity. Photograph by: Simon Smit


Compare this image with the first image of the Mashaba Female and you will see the noticeable similarities between mother and daughter. This wonderful moment was photographed by: Simon Smit.

And so we find ourselves entering the 2016 winter season at Londolozi with these gloriously balmy afternoons presenting leopard sightings in golden light and the Nkoveni female continuing to grace us with her enigmatic and unbelievably relaxed presence.  A descendent of the Sunsetbend lineage, she is now ever larger, healthier and more beautiful in her movements and her charisma.  She is symbolic of the Londolozi’s love affair with the natural world and in particular with its wild, free-ranging leopards with whom we have developed a kinship.


Slightly larger and with a FULL stomach from a recent Steenbok kill, the Nkoveni female is much larger 6 months later. Photograph by: Rich Laburn



Perhaps it is an understanding, perhaps it is an energetic exchange of presence and knowing, perhaps it is the fruit of decades of respect and patience to try and understand each other?

Whatever it is, it gives me hope to know that there are places on this earth where harmony abounds whilst man and nature exist in balance…


Filed under Leopards Wildlife

About the Author

Rich Laburn

Head of Digital

Rich is the driving force behind Londolozi’s online storytelling and the Londolozi blog. His passions of digital media, film and photography, combined with his field-guiding background, have seen him take the Londolozi blog to new heights since he began it in 2009. Rich ...

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on A Heart Warming Tale of the Nkoveni 2:2 Female’s Life

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Alison Belknap

I wish that every leopard in Africa could live like this, as they are meant to, without threat of poaching or hunting. The black & white photo of her is the most beautiful leopard photo I have ever seen, thank you!

Jill Larone

Beautifully written Rich, and your images are stunning. I was fortunate to see the Mashaba Young Female in Sept. 2013 while at Londolozi, and spent an afternoon watching her with her very patient mother. Like her mother, she has grown into an incredible beauty, with her stunning golden coat. I hope Nkoveni lives a good, long life and we are seeing and reading about her for many more years to come.

Michael & Terri Klauber

Thanks Rich, It’s been fun for us to watch them grow up too! Great story!

Victoria Auchincloss


christine frazer skinner

Beautiful pics of big cats

Rich Laburn

Thanks for your thoughts Alison, I agree that the black and white image is an absolutely beautiful photograph! Have you had the opportunity to see this leopard in person?

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