Sitting on the Varty Camp deck just a few mornings ago, with cups of coffee in hand, a few of us rangers looked over the Sand River to the northern bank and pondered how much things have changed in the last little while. In just two years, nine independent leopards have either been killed or died naturally on this northern section of Londolozi. This number is pretty startling. It begs the question, “why is this area proving to be so dangerous for leopards?”

And in some crazy way, could it possibly be a good thing for leopards going forward?

Before we get there though, let’s list the leopards that have disappeared from this area. These include the Ximpalapala female, Tutlwa female, Dudley Riverbank 5:5 male, Nanga Young Male, Nyelethi Female, Gowrie male, Tutlwa Young Male, Marthly Male and the Maliliwane female. Now onto how on earth this has happened…

The Tutlwa female leopard, photographed on a particular grassy crest we often used to find her. Since her interaction with the Tsalala Pride, her territory remains eerily quiet and we’ll always be left with more questions than answers as to what actually happened to this leopard.

Firstly, one of the reasons is because of a high predator density in the area and the resultant competition. In some cases, a few of these leopards were killed by other leopards and some by lions. About six months ago, the Tutlwa female was seen fighting off the Tsalala Pride in a thick section of the Sand River. Although no one actually saw the lions grab her, she was seen leaping away from them into some debris and judging by the sounds coming from the thicket, a fight definitely occurred. Since this time her territory remains eerily quite. The Tsalala pride was also responsible for the death of the Nyelethi Female and Dudley Riverbank 5:5 male, the latter of which we reported on in this blog last year.

Tsalala Pride, River JT

The Tsalala Pride crosses the Sand River. Having territory in both the south and north of Londolozi, these lions are responsible for either injuring or killing a number of leopards in their time.

As is the case with how predators interact in a natural system, there is also intra-species conflict, meaning that leopards attempt to oust other leopards in order to acquire their territory. They may also kill young that are not their own, thereby ridding the area of genes that are not theirs, forcing the female back into estrous and siring their own young. This was the case for the Tutlwa Young Male who was killed by the Gowrie male. This rather gory encounter was captured by National Geographic photographer, Sergey Gorshkov, in an unusual scene where the older leopard actually consumed the younger leopard. Although this sort of competition is fairly typical, eating the carcass of the other leopard is not well documented.

Gowrie male AA

The Gowrie male, easily recognisable by his very yellow orange eye colour. This was the leopard responsible for killing the Tutlwa young male.

There were also a few freak accidents such as was the case with the Maliliwane female who we believe was bitten by a snake and deteriorated incredibly quickly. And other cases remain unsolved, such as the Gowrie male who was their one day and gone the next, never to be seen again.

A young female who was not often seen during her time on Londolozi, owing to her inhabiting a not-often traversed section of the property.

Maliliwane 2:2 Female

Lineage
Sunsetbend
Identification
markings
Timeline
5 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
1 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist
10
Gowrie 2:2 Male
2005 - 2015

The Gowrie male first appeared in the Sabi Sands around 2011. Judging by his size, he is estimated to have been born around 2005/6.

Gowrie 2:2 Male

Lineage
Unknown
Identification
markings
Timeline
6 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
0 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist

Of course there are also situations where we believe the deaths to be natural and occurring from old age. These include the Marthly male and the Ximpalalpala female. Neither of their remains were found and so we cannot confirm our beliefs for sure but both were old leopards and were significantly weakened when they were last seen, meaning that they could easily have died naturally.

15

She was born to the Short Tailed female in 2002 in the same litter as the Tugwaan male, but since then records are sketchy at best.

Ximpalapala 4:4 Female

Lineage
Short Tail Female
Identification
markings
Timeline
6 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
1 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist

My fear in telling this story was that it would be seen as morbid but in fact I think there’s another way we can look at it. It’s an honest portrayal of the natural flow of life and death in the bush and although we have been incredibly sad to see the demise of these various leopards and miss their presence here, what we now see is opportunities opening up for the current Leopards of Londolozi.

What it leaves them with now is a large area of superb leopard territory only really held by the Nanga female and the Anderson male.

And this is where we come to the aspects of possibility and opportunity.

In some ways the above circumstances could aid the Nanga female who lost previous litters to the Tutlwa female and the Marthly male. With one cub at the moment, she may now actually have greater success of raising this cub to independence because of the diminished competition.

Nanga cub AS

One of the first sightings of the Nanga female’s cub at just a few weeks old.

nanga cub AS

The Nanga female with her cub. She did give birth to two cubs in this litter and we’re hoping that with current conditions she can raise this one to independence.

New and young leopards now also have space to extend into. These include the Mashaba young female who has been seen in the north on a few occasions as well as the Flat Rock male, a newcomer to these parts. And in fact, the Mashaba young female is a niece of the Tutlwa female whose territory she is extending into and is therefore in some way, continuing the success of this lineage. 

mashaba young female

The Mashaba young female resting in the boughs of a Marula Tree. From here she was scanning over territory previously held by the Tutlwa female, which in all likelihood she will attempt to take over now.

Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.

Mashaba 5:3 Young Female

Lineage
Sunsetbend
Identification
markings
Timeline
16 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
1 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist

One of the hard truths we’re all familiar with is that the only thing constant in life is change and it seems the ongoing saga of Londolozi’s Leopards is proving this yet again. Despite the sadness of leopards passed, we can at least be left to ponder what huge possibility is opening up and how this may be allowing the next young generation of leopards to flourish.

Filed under Leopards Wildlife

About the Author

Amy Attenborough

Media Team

Amy has a rich field-guiding history, having spent time at both Phinda and Ngala Game Reserves. This diversity of past guiding locations brought her an intimate understanding of different biomes across South Africa, and she immediately began making a name for herself as ...

More stories by Amy

14 Comments

on Why the North is So Dangerous For Leopards
    Lynne says:

    Thank you for such an interesting story! Although I have never visited Londolozi I feel I have been there after reading all the wonderful blogs done by yourselves !

    Lorenz Korder says:

    Hi Amy, so interesting to see how certain areas of the reserve have challenged leopard life. I am curious, could you explain to me or point me to a reference that explains the number ratio at the end of leopard names?

    Amy Attenborough says:

    Hi Lorenz. These numbers refer to the spots above the upper line of whiskers on a leopard’s face (we look first at the right side of the leopards face before moving to the left side). Each leopard has a differing number or shape to these spots meaning you can successfully identify individuals. Although there are a number of different techniques used, we find this the easiest and most widely used. Hope that helps!

    Lea says:

    A good article Amy and thanks for trying to unravel the leopard dynamics. As they say, the circle of life, out of something sad comes something good and, new characters take over a territory. Some things in nature will never be understood by humans, but that is what makes it so interesting and adds to the mystery.

    Hyo-Jung Kim says:

    Thank you so much for this wonderful reflection piece. I always enjoyed reading this blog which I regularly visit so that I can keep abreast of the going-ones at Londolozi.

    Chris says:

    Hi Amy. Do you know the sex of the Nanga female’s cub?

    Amy Attenborough says:

    Hi Chris. Yes, it’s a female.

    Tim Musumba says:

    How old was the Tutlwa Male?!Was he not a mature male leopard but young?!If so how possible was it for the Gowrie Male to kill an adult male leopard,not unless he was carrying an injury on him?!

    Amy Attenborough says:

    Hi Tim. No he was about a year and a half old. So although he was just reaching independence he was still relatively small compared to the much older male leopard. So it was therefore very likely that the older male killed him. Thanks , Amy

    Monique Steyn says:

    Hi Amy
    Thank you for an interesting read and clearing up who the body of the young leopard was in the tree with 8the Gowrie male. Do you have any idea or speculation as to what happened to the Nanga Young Male?

    Amy Attenborough says:

    Hi Monique. No I’m sorry we don’t. He was seen for about three months after independence and then just disappeared. He was never reported becoming independent in any of the neighbouring areas either and so was assumed dead.

    Lorenz Korder says:

    Thanks Amy, that is fascinating, would have never guessed it has to do with spots!

    TED SWINDON says:

    HI AMY, I HOPE THAT YOU ARE WELL.
    CONGRATULATIONS ON THIS EXCELLENT BLOG, SO WELL WRITTEN AND INSIGHTFUL.
    YES, IT IS A DIFFICULT SUBJECT TO WRITE ON, BUT YOU HAVE MADE SOME VERY GOOD POINTS.
    AS YOU KNOW I AM PASSIONATE ABOUT THE LEOPARDS OF LONDOLOZI AND FOLLOW THEM VERY CLOSELY, SO YES IT IS VERY SAD WHEN ONE DIES OR IS KILLED.
    I AGREE WITH YOU THAT THE FUTURE DYNAMICS OF THE NORTH ARE VERY PROMISING FOR NANGA AND THE MASHABA YOUNG FEMALE.
    I WILL CONTINUE TO FOLLOW THE DYNASTY OF THE LEOPARDS OF LONDOLOZI.
    IT IS SUCH A PRIVELEGE TO BE PART OF THEIR LIVES.
    KIND REGARDS,
    TED.

    marc says:

    The Anderson male 1 on 1 will not be killed by a lioness…if she sees him, see will loop around him

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