The last time a leopard on Londolozi successfully raised two cubs was in 2012, when the Tutlwa female’s 2011 litter (including the Nhlanguleni female) was pushed into full independence. The recently deceased Xidulu female occupies a grey area here, in that two of her cubs were alive at 14 moths old at the time of her death recently, (although the male cub has not been seen for some time), but for argument’s sake we won’t include her.

The Makhotini male. He and his brother the Tu-Tones male were the last male pair to be successfully raised, reaching independence in 2010.

9
Makhotini 3:3 Male
2008 - present

The brother of the Tu-Tones male from the same litter, the Makhotini male has had a far more successful life.

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Makhotini 3:3 Male

Lineage
River Female
Identification
markings
Timeline
7 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
2 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist

Since that 2011 Tutlwa litter, although a number of cubs have been reared successfully by their mothers, they have only ever been single leopards, unless my memory is playing me false. The Maxabene female raised the Makhotini and Tu-Tones males from her 2008 litter, the Nyelethi female’s 2009 litter of three all survived (a very rare thing in this area, and indeed anywhere), but since then it has only been the Tutlwa female to raise more than one cub from a litter. And even then we weren’t able to enjoy spectacular viewing of them, as both male and female cubs were very skittish. The male eventually moved off, but thankfully the female stuck around and is now far more relaxed. She was renamed the Nhlanguleni female (the Shangaan word for Gwarrie trees) after a road that she was first seen scent-marking on.

The Nhlanguleni was from the last litter of two or more to be raised on Londolozi. She nearly got her first litter (born 2015) through to independence but sadly they were killed by the Flat Rock male towards the end of last year.

Born to the Tutlwa female in early-mid 2011, the Nhlanguleni female spent her formative months (and years) in and around the Sand River.

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Nhlanguleni 3:2 Female

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

The Island, Nkoveni and Tatowa females were all the only survivors from litters of two or three. The Ndzanzeni female was born as a single cub. The Vomba young male made it to independence but was also born as a single cub. The Nanga female’s first litter had a surviving male that was forced into early independence (aged 11 months) after she gave birth again, but he disappeared sadly and is presumed dead.

Looking back to 2011, the statistics don’t make for happy reading. More than 40 (!) cubs have been born to Londolozi’s female leopards over this period  – and that’s just from a quick count; there were probably closer to 50, if not more – and less than 10 of those have survived to independence. This is not to say that anything untoward is happening. It is well documented that leopard cubs have a very high mortality rate, especially in a predator rich area like the Sabi Sands, and taking the emotion out of it, the low survival rate of the cubs is almost textbook.

The Flat Rock male was responsible for the deaths of at least two litters of cubs upon his arrival at Londolozi late last year; those of the Mashaba and Nhlanguleni females.

4
Flat Rock 3:2 Male
2013 - present

A leopard who took advantage of the death of the 4:4 male in 2016 to grab territory to the west of the Londolozi camps.

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Flat Rock 3:2 Male

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

It seems like we are overdue for a female to raise two cubs to full independence..

Now for the positives. The Nkoveni, Tamboti and Tatowa females are all raising litters of two, and the Mashaba female is also secreting cubs somewhere in the Sand River, although no one has yet seen the litter so we don’t know how many there are. The Nkoveni female’s cubs are around 6 months old, the Tamboti female’s are approaching four months, and the Tatowa female’s are a little older than that. These three litters, although still a long way from that magical age of twelve months at which mortality rate drops off exponentially, are nevertheless the current hopes that we have for seeing a female raise more than one cub.

The last litter of the Xidulu female. Whilst the young female (left) is still being viewed, the fate of the male is uncertain, as he has not been seen in awhile. Photograph by Amy Attenborough.

The daughter of Sunsetbend female, is named Xidulu which means termite mound in Shangaan.

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Xidulu 2:3 Female

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

The even better news is that all three females are raising their offspring in areas that currently lie within a stable male population. Although paternity is difficult to determine in leopard cubs, since the females often mate with multiple males, the Piva and Inyathini males are the suspected fathers of the Tamboti and Tatowa litters, whilst the Nkoveni female’s cubs were most likely fathered by the Piva or Flat rock male. Or both. With male leopards being the biggest cause of mortality to young cubs (they will kill cubs that aren’t their own), the current state of relative homeostasis is likely to give the cubs their best chance of survival.

It can be frustrating to have new questions posed everyday, and have the whole of these leopards’ lives based almost entirely on speculation. With nothing certain though, it seems that Nature has programmed her own incredible  drama to unfold in front of us, and with sure knowledge, I can almost guarantee we wouldn’t find it all quite as fascinating and enthralling as we do. It’s an outside chance, but hopefully just over a year from now we will be posting about the six newly independent leopards of Londolozi…

Involved Leopards

Makhotini 3:3 Male

Makhotini 3:3 Male

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Nhlanguleni 3:2 Female

Nhlanguleni 3:2 Female

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Flat Rock 3:2 Male

Flat Rock 3:2 Male

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Xidulu 2:3 Female

Xidulu 2:3 Female

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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 ...

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13 Comments

on How to Raise Two Cubs

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Ian Hall

Cracking opening shot

James Tyrrell

Thanks Ian. We had quite a lucky morning – searched for them for about two hours before a lone male impala started alarming and pointed us in the right direction.
Fortunately they all went up onto this one termite ground that had shorter grass on i than the rest…!

Laura Eberly

Thank you for the update on Xidulu’s cubs, she was the first leopard I ever saw and she was special. I hope the male is ok, her cubs are beautiful.

Darlene Knott

Stunning photos, James! I love leopards and am saddened by the number who do not make it. We saw the two cubs and their mother, who was killed, that you mentioned in the story. I hope the male is doing okay. Thanks for sharing this information!

Denise Vouri

I appreciate the information given on how difficult it is for leopards to raise their cubs to their age of independence. Leopards are one of my passions in the animal world and any photos or articles concerning these magnificent felines are welcomed. Well done!

Mike Ryan

Thanks James fascinating

Jill Larone

Beautiful pictures and great post, James! I keep hoping that the young Xidulu male will come wandering out of the long grass one of these days. Sadly, not likely, but I will keep hoping.

James Tyrrell

Hi Jill, we’re also keeping our fingers crossed…

Mj Bradley

It is amazing to know that the mortality rate for young leopards is so high.. I think those of us who follow the Northern areas of the Sabi Sands got very spoiled following one of the dominant females, Karula. She raised 5 litters of two cubs to maturity. The last 2 cubs were left on their own at almost 14 months of age.. They are now 18 months and doing well.. I would really like to know what made this female so successful in raising her litters.. I suppose she will go down as a legend in Sabi Sands history.. Thank you all for your insight into the lives of the critters of the South African bush!

James Tyrrell

MJ it’s hard to say why some females are more successful than others. I think in many cases it’s nothing more than good fortune…

Eulalia Angédu

Wonderful pictures James.I love them all they’re all amazing.Bravo for your work.

Eulalia Angédu

The flat rock male seems to be a predator of predators.It seems that he is establishing a very dangerous rein since he doesn’t spare his kind too.We hope for the appearance of the xidulu male soon.James BRAVO!Awesome text you have here.Marvelous beautiful pictures.

Irene Nathanson

I love the cover shot. Who is that female? Is that Nkoveni ?

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