It took me a long time to see leopards mating for the first time and it wasn’t until early last year that I got to witness this rare moment for the first time…
Over the past year or so I have been lucky enough to witness these moments a few more times and have started to notice something that I find rather interesting. There seems to have been a a slight pattern that has started to emerge. From what we have been seeing it seems like there are “peaks” in mating periods, with a number of pairs or trios of leopards seen mating all around the same time. It seems as though when a pair is seen that within a day or two, there will be another set of leopards mating somewhere nearby. Coincidence? Perhaps, or is there more to it?
Is there a possibility that female oestrus cycles are in sync with each other in close proximity? Is there uncertainty of dominance with the male leopards in the area? Is it down to competition between females? Or is the drought just providing an ideal situation for breeding with prey becoming slightly easier to catch with a fall in condition? These are a couple of questions that have been running through my mind while observing these fascinating creatures recently.
Leopards, like most cats, need to begin mating to induce ovulation. Because of this reason the female has to actively seek out the dominant male of the area when she is oestrus (the period in which her hormones are at their peak). In this state she will be able to release an egg but needs the male to mate with over a couple of days for the egg to be first released and then fertilized. She will mark her territory during this time with urine, which if smelled by the male, will let him know that she is in oestrus, and he will most likely attempt to track her down and the mating can commence…
So the question I have been wondering is, when leopards are in close proximity to each other, are the cycles of these females running a similar course as in a few other mammal species? According to a study done by the Centre for Species Survival, Department of Reproductive Sciences, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park, Clouded leopards, fishing cats and margays frequently have spontaneous and simultaneous ovulations. Recently (perhaps because of the drought) there have been a number of leopards congregating around the Sand River, as are a lot of other species. This has put a number of females in very close proximity of each other, in an already healthy population concentration. Now could this cause the females to come into oestrus on the same cycle just as humans cycles have been known to sync up? Perhaps it is just competition and if one female is mating then the neighbouring female feels she need to do the same to try help secure her territory. Perhaps the scent of another female being in oestrus triggers the next to go into her cycle? Perhaps the fact that a few males territories overlap on our property may have something to do with it? These are all just thoughts and observations and would all make sense if we look at a few examples over the past couple of months. There has also been evidence of the Mashaba female perhaps securing future cubs by mating with 2 different males on the same day.
16/05 – The Inyathini male and Tamboti young female with Piva also in the area.
19/05 – The Nanga female and the Anderson male.
23/05 The Inyathini male, Piva male and the Tamboti young female all in the same area with mating activity and fighting between the 2 males.
12/07 – Piva male and Tamboti young female (three days of mating activity with the Nkoveni female being seen in the same sighting which lead to more frequent mating attempts by the Tamboti young female, as well as increased scent marking by both females)
12/07 – Mashaba female and 4:4 male (12/07-17/07)
17/07 – Piva male and Mashaba female (in the morning she had been with the 4:4 male which suggests that she might be trying to secure future cubs by mating with multiple males)
These are all just observations and a couple of questions, not based on real empirical research, and for now I cant wait to see if when the next pair of leopards are seen mating wether there will be more pairs in the following days after that. The beautiful thing about being able to observe these animals so closely is that you get to ask questions like these and perhaps never know as they seem to just defy the rules on a daily basis. All we can do for now is watch and enjoy as these animals continue to leave us all with more questions than answers.
I hope that this post has got your minds wondering as much as mine is…