The first leopard to be viewed consistently on Londolozi was simply known as “the Mother”.

Whilst other skittish leopards had been glimpsed occasionally as they made furtive dashes for cover to avoid human eyes or the pesky Land Rovers that had begun traversing the property, she was the first of her kind to be relaxed enough that rangers, trackers and their guests could actually enjoy a sighting of her.

John Varty and Elmon Mhlongo spent years of their lives following this female, documenting her movements and trials through film, which resulted in the first documentary of its kind; The Silent Hunter. This in-depth look into the life of a wild leopard revealed for the first time the day to day of a leopard in the African bush; hunting, raising cubs and trying to survive amidst a host of other predators. This was a side of Africa that nobody had ever seen before.

Through careful habituation of the Mother Leopard’s cubs to the presence of Land Rovers, and subsequent habituation of their cubs, Londolozi has enjoyed generations of almost unrivalled Leopard viewing in the heart of one of the most wildlife-rich reserves in the world. The lineage of that original female is still being followed and recorded in the current population of Londolozi’s leopards.

There is a chance, however, that this whole lineage  – and with it an enormous part of the Londolozi history – is about to disappear.

The Nottens female was one of the oldest leopards recorded on Londolozi, disappearing at the age of 18. As a cub of the 3:4 female, her progeny included the recently deceased Piva male.

The Dudley Riverbank female was another prominent female whose offspring and descendants we have been viewing for years. The Ndzanzeni female is now officially the last leopard alive in her lineage.

The Ndzanzeni female is the last living descendant of the Mother Leopard who will directly continue her lineage and legacy.

This female is a success story all in herself, being born as a single cub to the Dudley Riverbank female in early 2012.

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Ndzanzeni 4:3 Female

Mother Leopard
18 stories
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When it comes to genetics and lineages in wild leopard populations, only the females are included as being links between successive generations. The males sadly are simply dead ends when it comes to record keeping. In the absence of historical DNA testing (although studies are currently underway under the auspices of the Panthera Organisation), it is almost impossible to say for sure who the father of a leopard cub is, as females will often mate with multiple males, and it has been shown that different males can father different cubs within the same litter. In order for her lineage to continue then, a female leopard needs to successfully raise a female cub, and have that female go on to produce female cubs of her own, and so on. Given that the average number of offspring successfully raised by a female leopard in her lifetime is 3-4 (interestingly enough, the most successful female on record was the Mother Leopard herself, who raised no less than 12 cubs to independence!), and if we’re looking at a roughly 50% ratio of male-female cubs, on average a female that lives out her whole life will on average only raise two female offspring to independence.

The Ndzanzeni female (left) and her current cub.

Those two are the ones that will then further her lineage. But anything can happen and averages really mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. Some females raise 1 cub in their lives; some raise 6 or 7. Some, like the Maxabene female for example, although successful mothers, don’t raise any females to independence.

We can talk about statistics all we want, but the facts are as follows: The Ndzanzeni female is the last hope for the continuation of the original Mother Leopard’s official lineage on Londolozi. All the Mother Leopard’s other female descendants have either died or dispersed into the Greater Kruger Park.

The Ndzanzeni female has somehow sustained a bad injury to her left hind leg, which over the past month has rendered it virtually useless. Should she die, that last link to the original Londolozi leopard will be severed.

The swelling around her ankle is very evident in this photo. For a month she has been hopping around without placing any weight on the leg. Photograph by Garrett Fitzpatrick

The muscular atrophy is very evident here in the hollow section on her upper leg, as is the swelling lower down. Photograph by Garrett Fitzpatrick

Somehow or other, despite her injury, she has kept going, and has managed to make a couple of kills that have sustained her and her still-dependent son. His survival, as discussed above, is unfortunately a moot point in terms of  the lineage, although obviously for his sake we hope he makes it.

Rarther a goofy expression on his face, the Ndzanzeni female’s cub looks along a branch towards his mother.

The loss of the female herself on the other hand, would bring down the curtain on the most iconic lineage of the Leopards of Londolozi.

All is not lost however. In 2011 the 3:3 Dudley Riverbank young male sustained a similar injury (unknown causes) in which he too was unable to use his back leg and was seen limping around without placing any weight on it. Yet somehow he managed to eke out an existence, scavenging kills and killing smaller animals, just getting enough energy to survive and ultimately to heal. After six months, he had completely recovered.

About five days ago, ranger Greg Pingo and tracker Equalizer Ndlovu saw the Ndzanzeni female placing a little bit of weight on her leg. Not much, as it was only to balance on a tree branch, but it was something.

Hope remains.

Filed under Leopards Wildlife

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Mother Leopard

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Ndzanzeni 4:3 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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on The Original Mother Leopard: End of a Lineage?

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Marinda Drake

With three leopards killed recently I do hope she survives.

Lisa Hilger

Too much sadness in the loss of leopards throughout the Sabi Sands this year. We need a leopard story like this one that ends with the very best outcome. 🙂

Irene Nathanson

Thank you for tracing their lineage. This has always been so interesting to me- not just seeing many beautiful leopards but knowing who they are and where they came from. I look back at some of my photos and I’m not always sure who they are.

Karen Millman

Thank you for helping me identify one of the leopards I saw as the Mashaba female 3:3!

Denise Vouri

With all my heart, I hope she recovers from her leg injury. It would be a shame to lose this lineage from the mother leopard.

Susan Strauss

Sending love to her, so hoping she recovers and lives a long leopard life ❤️

Juliette Bloxham

Amazing article. We know you don’t interfere with the wildlife. Can’t you just help her leg? Please?

Sally S.

Very impressive linage thank you for sharing. Enjoyed reading this Blog

Jo Lowe

Can humans not intervene with the leopard having the hurt leg and fix it for her so she can go on? We have that technology. We help people all the time. Why not animal people?

Mj Bradley

I truly hope the Ndzanzeni leopard makes a full recovery. It would be heart breaking to see the end of a legacy.
We lost our own Queen of leopards this past March in the Northern Sabi Sands.. Karula was one of those special leopards, like the Mother Leopard, who stands out as something quite special. Karula has given birth to 11 cubs. One cub was killed by hyena in 2014, and one Xivindzi disappeared at around 18 months of age.. She has raised 9 to independence.. She has 3 living daughters..2 age 10 and her last female is now 19 mos old. Sometimes I wish that the Sabi Sands didn’t have a hands off policy, but I understand why they do.. Thank you for keeping us informed about what is happening with Ndzanzeni.

Karen Millman

Thank you so much for posting this – hope remains indeed! I really enjoyed seeing these family trees, knowing their lineage really brings to life all the connectivity. And in feeling so bonded with them after seeing them there in August, it is an honor to be able to stay up to date on the events happening in their lives.

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