A few mornings ago Amy Attenborough and I were driving away from Mahlahla Dam, having been to investigate the carcass of a young elephant calf that had died. We had been getting some footage of the Tsalala pride that had discovered the carcass overnight and had been feeding through the morning. The Anderson male leopard had also been seen in the area two days before but had moved on without touching the carcass, possibly having been reluctant to attempt to drag it from the mud.
Anyway, the fact that the Anderson male had been seen there got us talking about the new leopard dynamics that would develop as a result of the death of the Dudley Riverbank 5:5 male. With the space now available, would the Anderson male expand further east or would some other individual step in? The 4:4 male pops up all over the show, so we couldn’t rule him out. The discussion was made more interesting by the death of the Maliliwane female earlier this year, so in fact there is a vacancy for a territorial male and female leopard in Londolozi’s north-east corner.
Our discussion was prophetic, in that less than 30mins later, after having returned to camp, we were being summoned back out by Londolozi’s ex-Head Ranger Oliver Sinclair, who reported two leopards fighting barely 100m from where the Tsalala pride was lying next to the elephant carcass.
We grabbed our camera gear and raced back to the scene, and it wasn’t long before we had a slightly obscured view of the female, lying with her back towards us in a bushwillow thicket, keeping a close eye on the male who was in turn watching her from a nearby slope about 40m away. Our initial guess that it was the Nanga female turned out to be correct after she turned and looked at us and we were able to get a better look at her face, but of the male we were not so sure. The Anderson male was an unlikely candidate, as this male was smaller, and the Anderson male has been seen mating with the Nanga female a couple of times over the last month or two. Excess aggression of the kind Ollie had reported between the pair would be unlikely.
Eventually getting a decent view of him, we felt that something in his spot pattern was familiar, even though neither Amy or I had ever seen him before. Remembering a photo of an unknown male that Ranger Andrea Campbell had shown the rest of the ranging team recently, we were able to conclude that he was the Kunyuma male, a young leopard that has occasionally been seen around our northern boundary, and clearly now making a move into the area, quite possibly owing to the death of the dominant male.
The Nanga female waited for about ten minutes before trying to slink away, but the Kunyuma male trotted after her, keeping her in sight. She rested in the shade of a nearby tree after moving about 60m, and the male seemed very hesitant to approach, but as soon as she tried to retreat once more, he went rushing in, and with a fierce warning growl, and before any contact could actually be made, the Nanga female was forced to leap into the branches of a Marula tree to keep out of his clutches.
What he was actually hoping to accomplish we are not sure. He is still relatively young (born December 2012 to the Kurula female in the North) and is too small to be properly dominant over an area yet. More than likely a combination of curiosity, the Nanga female’s uncertainty over this new male in the area, his instinct to chase anything that runs away and possibly the instinctive desire to initiate approaches to a female combined with hesitation brought on by inexperience, all combined to make the interaction a bit confusing for both parties.
After treeing the female for the second time (Ollie had seen him do it once already), he trotted away to the south. We could hear squirrels alarming in that direction, but after they quieted down we assumed he had moved off, as did the Nanga female from her Marula tree perch; after a brief grooming session she descended the tree and moved off quickly in the opposite direction.
Since the Anderson male was seen in the same spot only 48 hours before and is much bigger than the young Kunyuma male, it is unlikely that the Kunyuma male will be able to stick around and claim the area for himself. He has a significant amount of growing to do before he can do that.
Interestingly enough, his littermate also put in an appearance on Londolozi last year, in the form of the Quarantine male, but as far as I’m aware he has not been seen on Londolozi soil since then.
In a year’s time, either of these two young males may well be challenging for territory on Londolozi, but for now I’m pretty confident it’ll be the bigger males that will be holding sway.