I generally like the lesser-known leopards.
Partly because as leopards I believe the more mystery they have about them the better, and partly because by default they tend to inhabit the further reaches of Londolozi, and a sighting of them usually has just your vehicle there, with unlimited time at your disposal to spend in the company of this magnificent creature.
The Tutlwa female, the 4:4 male and now the Ndzanzeni female have all at one time or another occupied the top spot in my list of favourite individuals on the reserve, albeit not only for the reasons I mentioned above.
This female is a success story all in herself, being born as a single cub to the Dudley Riverbank female in early 2012.
With the former two having both met their fate at the hands of the reserve’s lion population, only the Ndzanzeni female remains now as the leopard I’d always pick to spend time with above any other. Still raising a male cub of roughly a year old, weeks can go by without a sighting of her, so any time she resurfaces I find myself heading down into Londolozi’s southern reaches to follow up on the fortunes of the two animals. If she hasn’t been seen for awhile I’ll often make a concerted effort to check out some of her favourite haunts in the hope of even just a glimpse of her or her offspring.
Ranger Sean Zeederberg and tracker Joy Mathebula were recently driving with their guests in the incredibly picturesque Dudley Riverbank area of Londolozi, and were descending into a steep section of a gulley named 3:4 Crossing, in honour of the 3:4 female leopard who lived for 17 years on Londolozi and whose body was found at the crossing point, when movement on the bank caught their eyes.
Born to the Tugwaan female in August 1992, this leopard would redefine the relationship between man and wild cat.
According to Sean, the next few minutes dissolved into a crazy whirl of excitement as a female leopard with her kill was spotted, her cub came out, another female arrived and was chased off, and the Inyathini male was all the while watching from the lip of the bank. I’ll let Sean summarise the sighting in a separate post, as I wasn’t there, but hearing of this insanely rare grouping of four leopards, and hearing that one of them had been the Ndzanzeni female, I made sure I headed there that afternoon to see if anything had developed.
Our expectations were high on the way down, and were significantly boosted by ranger Nick Kleer’s update as we approached the sighting, “James move it up, the male and the cub are in the tree!”. Slotting into position next to Nick’s vehicle, the most beautiful scene was in front of us, with the Inyathini male draped languorously over the branch of a spreading Jackalberry tree, with the Ndzandzeni female’s cub lying on the same branch facing him. The female herself was at the base of the tree, but no sooner had I turned off the engine than she too leaped up along the sloping trunk to join the pair already up in the branches. The unidentified female from that morning was nowhere to be seen, but with three leopards there we weren’t complaining!
The kill appeared to be a young bushbuck, and what was left of it was hoisted into a Tamboti tree, the access to which lay along the branch on which the Inyathini male was lying. Any attempt by the female or her cub to skirt round him to get to the meat was met by instant snarls and aggression, and it wasn’t until about twenty minutes later that he shifted his position, which opened a gap for the female to sneak past him up to the kill.
Once she was at the carcass the Inyathini male didn’t seem to mind (often male leopards won’t allow females near to their kills) and settled down again, with the cub remaining on the branch near him. At least four hyenas were circling the base of the Tamboti tree in which the Ndzanzeni female was feeding, hoping for any scraps to drop down to them. In repositioning the kill she almost dropped it, which caused an immediate intake of breaths from all observers, but a quick snatch recovered the situation, and she managed to lodge it a bit more firmly in the branches, to the disappointment of the hyenas.
The next morning the kill had been entirely consumed and all three leopards were gone, vanished into the surrounding thickets.
The Ndzanzeni female is the great granddaughter of the 3:4 female, so it was a wonderful thing to witness such a sighting at a place that forms such an iconic part of the history of the Leopards of Londolozi.