At Londolozi we are incredibly privileged to be able to watch things come full circle, whether in the bush or with our friends and within the Londolozi family.

A recent example of this is one that will always bring a smile to my face, as it involves a good friend of mine.

Talley Smith (she of The Week in Pictures fame) joined Londolozi in early 2011, roughly at the same time as me, so we share a lot of our earliest memories of this place.
Talley was paired with tracking wizard Freddy Ngobeni from the word go, and the pair’s O.C.D. approach to tracking and finding animals regularly bore fruit. One of Tal’s favourite memories of a track-and-find came in early 2012, when they found the old Dudley Riverbank female at a den site in the Tugwaan Riverbed with a very young cub. This cub grew up as the Dudley Riverbank Young female, to be renamed as the Ndzanzeni female early this year when she became territorial.

The Ndzanzeni female bore her first litter in March, but after a brief sighting by some staff, the cubs sadly disappeared.

DSC_0431

The first litter of the Ndzanzeni female. Photograph by Don Heyneke.

Fast forward to September this year, and Tal and Fred were once again on tracks. Freddy – who regularly has moments of apparent clairvoyance in the bush – had recommended for reasons unknown that they go look for the Ndzanzeni female that day, and he soon found tracks of a female leopard moving parallel to the Tugwaan drainage line.
Within a relatively short time, Fred had followed the tracks to Python Rock, a well-known leopard den site on Londolozi for rather sinister reasons. Tracks going in and out of the rocks immediately led Freddy to conclude that the Ndzanzeni female was keeping a litter there, but just to make sure, he scouted the area on foot. He and Talley caught a brief glimpse of a tiny spotted shape in a prominent crack in the rocks, which was clearly a cub, so they moved back to the vehicle.

I love the fact that it was Freddy and Talley that had been the first ones to find the Ndzanzeni female when she was a tiny cub, and now it was the same two that were the first to find her new den site, over four years later.

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The cubs are wonderfully relaxed at a young age. This is most likely thanks to the structure of their first den site, from which they were able to observe vehicles in the distance from the relative safety and obscurity of a thicket and boulder clump. Photograph by James Tyrrell.

Since the female wasn’t there, Tal and Fred left the area, but over the next few weeks we were to get brief glimpses of what we initially thought was only a single cub nosing about the Grewia thicket atop the rocks while its mother lay in a cleft. To our delight, rangers Don Heyneke and Fin Lawlor, scoping out the den through their binoculars one afternoon about three weeks after the initial discovery, reported that there were in fact two cubs!!

Soon after Fin and Don’s sighting, the Ndzanzeni female moved the cubs to a new den a few hundred metres away, and shortly after that to a third spot in another boulder clump. This one we didn’t know of at first, and it was only when Dave Strachan was tracking the Inyathini male past the rocks and he came face to face with the snarling form of a female leopard that we realised that this was the new hiding place for the cubs.

den-map

The purple area is the approximate extent of the Ndzanzeni female’s territory. The numbered red dots are the first, second and third dens used by the female. The Londolozi camps are the small coloured area near the river in the top middle section of the map.

The cubs are currently being moved around by the female and accompanying her to kills. This a dangerous time in their lives as they are exposed to multiple threats, mainly in the form of lions and hyenas that would attempt to rob a leopard of its kill, and would have no hesitation in killing a cub should they be able to get hold of it.
The cubs are only just over two months old as far as we can work out, so their climbing and evasion skills are still relatively poor.

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The cubs emerge from their hiding place at their latest den site at Sandros’ Rocks. Photograph by James Tyrrell.

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Still relatively clumsy at this age, short falls are common but part of the developmental process. Here one of the cubs takes a tumble off the rock. Photograph by James Tyrrell.

Our most likely guess is that the Inyathini male fathered the cubs, but since females frequently mate with multiple males it is hard to say for sure. With the Makhotini male regularly encroaching into the western portions of the Inyathini male’s territory, it is our hope that the Ndzanzeni female also mated with him in order to confuse the paternity. Since roughly 35% of leopard cub mortality is attributed to rival male leopards that aren’t the father, the most important factor for the cub’s survival is probably going to be the Inyathini male’s hold on the area.

With the sad demise of the 4:4 male recently, and the likely instability of the male population around the Sand River for some months to come, it is comforting to know that the area the two Ndzanzeni cubs are currently being raised in seems relatively stable as far as dominant males are concerned, and the cubs’ chances of survival are as good as we can hope for…

Filed under Leopards Wildlife

About the Author

James Tyrrell

Photographic Guide/Media Team

James had hardly touched a camera when he came to Londolozi, but his writing skills were well developed, and he was quickly snapped up by the Londolozi blog team as a result. An environment rich in photographers helped him develop the photographic skills ...

View James's profile

8 Comments

on Introducing: The Ndzanzeni Cubs

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Frances Fearnhead
Guest

Ah, fingers firmly crossed for them, from far across the Equator!

Frances Fearnhead
Guest

A quick question … as the Ndzanzeni female lost her first litter, is she going to be any more aware of the dangers this time or is it just the luck of the draw? Thanks.

Amy Attenborough

Hi Frances. It’s hard to say because there are so many factors that come into play. Strangely enough the statistics show that young leopard mothers actually tend to have a better survival rate of cubs than older females. We assume this is because they put more effort into the process. Having said that, experience may also help this leopard with her new litter. A lot of the time though, the deaths of cubs are from unavoidable situations and not necessarily because she has done anything wrong. Hope this helps.. Thanks, Amy

Laura Eberly
Guest

Such magnificent animals! Thank you for sharing this.

Christine
Guest

I am so thrilled to see this! My husband and I spent a wonderful afternoon with her when she was a few months old. How delightful to see her with her own babies.

Judy Guffey
Guest

No surprise to me that it was Freddy ( and Talley) who found the cubs …..unbeatable team.

Wendy Hawkins
Guest

Thanks James, lets hope they grow up big & strong 🙂

Suzanne Gibson
Guest

Thank you so much for this – I also feel I have come full circle. The 1st time we came to Londolozi, in Feb 2010, we saw the Dudley Riverbank female with her male 3:3 cub. I next saw her in April 2012, with her 1 month old cub, a very special treat. Then last month I felt incredibly privileged to see that young cub at 4 1/2 years old, nursing her own 2 cubs. Do you know the sex of the cubs yet? – would be wonderful if at least 1 is female and can continue the royal line all the way back from the original mother leopard.

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