There have been quite a few sightings of leopards mating at Londolozi over the last month. In fact, the Piva male was seen mating with the Nkoveni female only a few days prior to mating with the Tamboti female, which is thought to be against the norm. Yesterday afternoon Elmon Mhlongo and I witnessed this very rare and secretive event. The Piva male and Tamboti female leopards were resting in an open clearing alongside a thicket of Tamboti trees when the Tamboti female uttered a low growl, rapidly moving her tail from side to side. She then proceeded to approach the Piva male, pacing up and down in front of him and in a matter of seconds, the two had mated. I glanced over to Elmon to express my excitement. He smiled back with a hint of humility that masked the endless hours that he had spent years before this to witness leopards mating. It was not always this easy.
In 1984, Warren Samuels was one of the first rangers at Londolozi to report loud guttural growls from mating leopards in the Sand River. John Varty and Elmon had just begun filming leopards and this presented them with a unique opportunity to capture leopards mating on film, something that had never been done before in this area. John and Elmon followed the leopards through some incredibly thick brush but couldn’t get a clear enough view to capture the mating. John described this as one of the most frustrating times in his life. “The bush was so dense that although we parked less than two meters from the mating we still could not see anything at all. It was almost unbearable having the camera at the ready with everything going on underneath our noses but being quite unable to film”, says John. Although the female was quite relaxed with the presence of the vehicle, the unidentified shy male continuously hid away in the thickets and the female would follow him. John and Elmon tried for hours to capture the mating but could only record the sound of the mating taking place in the thickets.
The next day, they set out at first light and Elmon tracked the leopards further upstream in the Sand River. Once again, they heard the sound of the leopards mating in impenetrable brush and after an entire day of waiting patiently, the leopards moved out into the open. This was the moment they had been waiting for and the pressure was on. John and Elmon got into position and set up their camera equipment. As John switched on his filming light, one of the batteries powering the light caught fire and plunged the Land Rover into darkness while the sound of the leopards mating filled the air around them. John, uttering swearwords that Elmon dared not repeat, scrambled to put out the fire with his hat. After driving back to camp to fetch a replacement battery, Elmon and John headed back out, and followed the leopards for a few more hours before their efforts had paid off. At around 2:00am, as the female approached the male, John and Elmon were able to capture leopards mating on film for the first time.
When leopards mate, they usually pair up for two or three days and will mate as often as every fifteen minutes or even less . Leopards have done this for thousands of years. However, only relatively recently have we been given a rare glimpse into the live of these secretive animals as they allow us to follow them, unperturbed by our presence. There are very few places that one can witness this kind of behavior from wild leopards but due to the perseverance and commitment of the trackers and rangers at Londolozi, we are able to follow their daily lives and share them with people from across the globe who will share their stories.