Despite having been born here, the Xidulu female had hardly been seen on Londolozi prior to this year. With the level of the Sand River now slowly rising due to some much needed rain, we have begun to see her and her two cubs on a more regular basis on our southern bank. This could possibly be due to the fact that she may be a little nervous to cross the main channel with her youngsters. What this does though is push her into the territory of the Nkoveni female leopard. Last week we saw a conflict, and it was nothing short of incredible…
The daughter of Sunsetbend female, is named Xidulu which means termite mound in Shangaan.
A young female that lives to the east and south of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
The sun had just risen and the bush was alive with the sound of kingfishers and cuckoos. We had gone out specifically to look for the Xidulu female leopard, as we were hoping she had her cubs on the Southern side of the river. Along the river road we happened to find the Tsalala lionesses and their cubs playing in the sand which temporarily distracted us from our search. Above us in a Jackalberry tree a monkey was watching from his vantage point and enjoying warming himself in the early morning sun. Then he looked away from the lions, and his expression changed. He suddenly rushed to the outer branches and started to alarm call. The calls intensified and we knew there had to be a leopard nearby. We drove up into a clearing in search of the cause of the monkey’s distress.
Then my teammate, tracker Mike Sithole, proved once again why he is renowned amongst the tracking team for his remarkable eyesight by spotting the Xidulu female lying under a dense thicket. She was watching a group of impalas feeding just down hill from where she was positioned and was just entering the initial phases of a stalk. She slunk low to the ground and moved to the next thicket line, with the distant cries of the monkey in the tree growing softer as she moved out of sight. We kept our distance so as not to disturb the hunt but the silence was then broken by the panicked calls of impalas several hundred metres away from her. The leopard’s behaviour immediately changed as she turned towards the source of the sound. Then the unmistakable scream of an animal being attacked reached our ears, followed by… silence. The Xidulu female set off down the crest towards the sound and we followed in hot pursuit. As we rounded a few trees we spotted another female leopard!
She was hunched down over a young nyala whose legs were kicking desperately to try and break free. She then looked up and dropped the nyala to the ground who by this point was not capable of moving but was still alive. The Xidulu female came running in towards the Nkoveni female leopard and there was a temporary stand off as they sized each other up. Leaving the struggling nyala, both the leopards disappeared into a nearby drainage line and we lost view of them.
Suddenly the Xidulu female was back and picked up the nyala and started running off with her stolen meal and we once again lost sight of her. We spent roughly 15 minutes trying to relocate either of the leopards with no success until we spotted a leopard dragging the now dead nyala back into the same drainage line that both cats had disappeared into earlier. This time it was the Nkoveni female that had the kill and there was no sign of the Xidulu female. Up the drainage she went and for the third time we lost both leopards.
On the search went in vein until the alarm calls of some nyalas and impalas helped us locate a leopard dragging the kill down towards the river. This time it was the Xidulu female who had the kill. She moved across the clearing at a steady speed only pausing to look over her shoulder to see if she was being trailed by her competitor. After a few minutes she stopped near a dense thicket and appeared to be more relaxed, indicating that she believed she had won the battle and could now settle down to enjoy her meal.
The excitement on the vehicle was electric after what we had witnessed but it was bumped up to a whole new level when we saw a flash of spots and then another. The Xidulu female’s two cubs came bounding over from their hiding place, running towards their mother and the nyala she had brought back for them. The young male skipped the thank you and stole the kill straight out of his mother’s mouth, sprinting off to enjoy his meal in the shade of a fallen tree nearby and standing guard while his sister attempted to join in. The most outstanding morning I’ve experienced in the bush to date!