Leopards are solitary animals. This is a fact, or so we think.
This is what will be said about leopards in most reference books. They will tell you that majority of the time when one sees leopards they will be on their own, unless its a female with her cubs, a male and female mating or by chance two leopards meeting over a territorial dispute. This seems to hold true for most of the time, and in my experience it most certainly is. But there have a few instances over the past couple of months at Londolozi that have made me question how much we really know about leopards and their behaviour.

The Ndzanzeni young male and Ndzanzeni female walking down a game path following the Inyathini male on a territorial patrol.

The Inyathini male patrolling his territory. This male is looking very healthy at the moment, and seems to be expanding territory to the north. Photograph by Alistair Smith

The instances I speak of involve three individuals in particular; the Inyathini male, Ndzanzeni female and her male cub. On a few occasions over the past few months we have witnessed the three of these leopards together and – not just by chance – actually spending time together with no aggression. I was fortunate enough to be witness to their last encounter.

I received a call from Alistair Smith on the radio to say he had found Ndzanzeni and her cub. We were nearvy and decided to join him with these two beautiful creatures. Whilst we were heading there I received another call from Al to say they could hear a male calling not far away. This sent the excitement even higher as I thought there may be a chance the leopards could all join up. In my mind I was hoping it was the Inyathini male calling and I was really hoping to witness the interaction that other rangers and trackers had seen before. As we arrived in the sighting we saw the mother and her cub lying in the shade, and right next to them was the Inyathini male; he had just arrived as well. I absolutely love seeing leopards, it never gets old, but to see a male and female relaxing with their cub was definitely a first for me.

The young male cub. Should her survive he will eventually get pushed out of the area by his father. Photograph by Alistair Smith

The two start to follow the male, very unusual behaviour, and certainly a first for me to witness. Photograph by Alistair Smith

I was really intrigued as to what would play out and how the Inyathini male would behave around the female and her cub. We watched for a while as the trio got comfortable with each other without too much interaction.
Thats when things got even more interesting. The male decided to get up and move off on a territorial patrol. I did not expect the other two to follow, but they did. He walked about 15 metres in front of them, scent marking and calling along his way, with the other two just strolling along behind him. It was fascinating behaviour to watch. One of the most interesting things was that the Inyathini male seemed to wait for the other two when they strayed too far behind. He would stop, turn back almost as if to say, “Are you coming?”

The Ndzanzeni female leads her cub along after the Inyathini male. What was quite interesting was the cub was often in front following his father. Photograph by Alistair Smith

This was the only aggression shown between the trio, when the Inyathini male arrived. Alistair managed to capture the slight aggression between the male and female, they then all settled down. Photograph by Alistair Smith

It was certainly one of the most incredible sightings I’ve ever had. We had the privilege of following them for about 30 minutes until they disappeared into thick bush. I can’t wait to see how the relationship plays out and if this become more frequent behaviour.

Could other leopards in the area start doing it as well?

The Inyathini male was initially skittish around vehicles. Thankfully he has become habituated enough for us to view him in sightings like this one without his behaviour being affected by our presence.

We often joke by saying that the animals out here don’t read the same books we do, surprising us everyday with new behaviours; these three certainly didn’t read the chapter on leopards being solitary.

Filed under Leopards Wildlife

Involved Leopards

Inyathini 3:3 Male

Inyathini 3:3 Male

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Ndzanzeni 4:3 Female

Ndzanzeni 4:3 Female

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About the Author

Kevin Power

Field Guide

Kevin hails from the small town of George, but we try not to hold that against him... After obtaining a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Finance at the University of Stellenbosch, Kev realised that town life wasn't for him for the moment, and ...

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on How Much Do We Really Know?

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Darlene Knott

Very interesting! The Leopard is my favorite animal and I have watched quite a few, but have never seen or even heard of this happening. Thanks for sharing.

Judy Boch

Great blog, Kevin! I hope they will still be interacting when we get there in August!

Vicky Sanders

Great article, and I am sure this happens much more than is witnessed. Here is a paper done by Tara Pirie of a sighting on Djuma with mother Karula, 2 young cubs, her older cub Induna and the 3 cubs suspected father Yambilu-Jordaan. An amazing thing to witness. https://www.flipsnack.com/7BBFAECF8D6/social-interactions-between-a-male-leopard-2014.html

MJ Bradley

We have seen this behavior a few times in the Northern Sabi Sands with Karula and her cubs most notably was Yambilu Jordaan and his offspring 2008 Mixo & Induna again with 2010 Xivndzi & Xivambalana. A guide who worked for WildEarth did her doctorate thesis on just this type of behavior. As she always said, the leopards don’t read the books!

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