To witness animals mating in the wild is always an intriguing spectacle. It provides amusement and wonder for everyone watching and sometimes a few awkward giggles as well. As a guide you choose your words very carefully as you try and interpret what’s going on in front of you, and if there are kids on the vehicle you sometimes gladly sit back and listen as either Mum or Dad is tasked with giving an impromptu “Birds and the Bees” talk. Either way, it’s a special sighting because it’s not the everyday animal behaviour one gets to experience and it also signifies the beginning of a new life that in a few months time will be faced with the daunting task of trying to survive in the African bush.

When the mating pair happens to be leopards the excitement is compounded. The thrill of spotting just one leopard is usually enough in itself, so when a second leopard comes into view you struggle to believe your luck. The fact that you are watching two adult leopards, solitary and elusive by nature, engage in behaviour that is not observed on a regular basis and together with the knowledge that this behaviour could be responsible for the next generation of leopards in Londolozi, it makes for an incredibly special and memorable sighting.

Now keeping all of this in mind, imagine the excitement a few mornings ago when TWO pairs of mating leopards were found a few kilometres apart! The first pair was the Mashaba female together with the Robsons 4:4 male which James Tyrrell wrote about earlier this week. The second pair, which I was fortunate enough to see, was the Tamboti Young Female and the Piva Male.

They had first been found together two days before in the Maxabene riverbed not too far away from our eastern boundary and on this particular morning they were tracked from there all the way to the Sand River. One of the benefits of the dry winter is that the grass is really short and so when we arrived in the sighting we saw the Piva male lying out in the open, fast asleep in the morning sun. We scanned the thicket line in the direction of where we were told the Tamboti young female was hiding, but to no avail. After a short while, the lure of hot chocolate and coffee was too much and so we left with the idea of coming back afterwards to see if anything had changed. Luckily, it had!

We got back into the sighting to find the Piva male with his head up this time and then we spotted the Tamboti young female peering in his direction from behind a fallen over tree. She stretched and yawned and walked over to him before proceeding to parade herself back and forth in front of him willing him to get up and mate with her which he eventually did.

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The Tamboti Young Female positions herself in front of the Piva Male, trying to encourage him to mate with her. Photograph by James Souchon

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Seemingly reluctantly he stands up ready to mate. Photograph by James Souchon

Born in January 2013, the Tamboti Young Female is still a young leopard who hasn’t sired a litter just yet. She has been seen mating once before earlier this year but failed to conceive, perhaps due to her young age. As she approaches 4 years old this will hopefully change. She will become increasingly fertile and, when in oestrus, will look for every chance to mate in order to have her first litter of cubs.

Mating is a prolonged, aggressive affair, as seen in the photos and video. It can go on for as long as 5 days and at an average interval of 20 minutes between sessions it means that by the end of it the two individuals could have mated over 300 times. It is a painful experience for the female due to the barbed end of the male’s penis and as a result there is a lot of biting and clawing as the female lashes out at the male. The whole process lasts no longer than a minute and after a ferocious and lightning quick squabble it’s all over and they lie back down or carry on walking just as they were before. Sometimes, you only hear them due to the thick area they may be moving through but on this particular morning we were treated to the whole spectacle right in front of us and out in the open.

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The above series of pictures show how aggressive the mating process can be. The female rolls onto her back and swats at the male and he responds by jumping out of the way and walking off. She does this because of the barbed nature of the male leopard’s penis which causes her pain and it’s his way of ensuring a better chance of mating success. Photograph by James Souchon

Hopefully this time for the Tamboti Young Female the mating is a success and she will fall pregnant. Her gestation period is between 90-105 days and so we will continue searching for her and keeping a watch to see if there is any sign of a “baby bump” growing. In the greater scheme of things, this could potentially be the next generation of the famous Sunset Bend female leopard’s lineage and at the same time add the next chapter to the story that is the Leopards of Londolozi.

 

 

 

Filed under Featured Wildlife

About the Author

James Souchon

Field Guide

James started his guiding career at the world-renowned Phinda Game Reserve, spending four years learning about and showing guests the wonder of the incredibly rich biodiversity that the Maputaland area of South Africa has to offer. Having always wanted to guide in the ...

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4 Comments

on The Birds and Bees of Being a Leopard

Jill Larone
Guest

We will all wait anxiously James, to see if the Tamboti Young Female will have cubs! I first saw her as an 8-month old cub in Sept. 2013, so she has a special place in my heart. I’m so happy that she survived to adulthood and is at the stage of conceiving her own cubs now. Please keep us updated!

Dina, Guido
Guest

great shots James !
Last time in Chobe , we heard what we tought as being a fight between leopards , but is was also a female and a male , but the male ran off! He was scared!

Joan
Guest

That is an incredible sighting!

Mike Sutherland
Guest

This post resonates so much with me! Amazing to see this young Leopard’s journey. I saw her for the first time whilst guiding at Londolozi when she was 6 weeks old!

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