Due to the amazing quality of leopard viewing here at Londolozi, we are given the opportunity to witness some fascinating behaviour. Not all behaviours are to our liking of course, and observing leopards over extended periods of time comes with some heartache. Infanticide, the killing of cubs, in leopards remains the highest cause of deaths in cubs and accounts for almost one third of all juvenile mortalities. Males will practice this behaviour in order to increase their chances of mating with that female thereby siring cubs with her. This blog is not meant to dwell on this fact but rather to explain how a mother leopard will react if her cubs are killed or threatened by a rival male.

5
Nkoveni 2:2 Female
2012 - present

A young female that lives to the east and south of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.

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Nkoveni 2:2 Female

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

On the 20th of September, the Flat rock male killed one of the Nkoveni female’s cubs. This is a direct result of the Piva male’s death recently. The territory that he once occupied along the river, to the east of camp, is now without a dominant male. This happens to be where the Nkoveni female resides with her cubs. She had made a kill and had it hoisted in a tree when the Flat rock male unfortunately came across the three of them. It was then that he killed one of the cubs.

The Flat rock male the day after the incident occured.

Once the Flat rock male had eaten from the impala, he moved off with the Nkoveni female trailing him very closely. She stuck with him for five days and followed him all the way into Singita (which lies to the west of us) and back again, before finally returning to her second cub. During this time she mated with him very regularly. On returning to the cub six days later, she went off to make a kill and then led the cub to the carcass to feed. You may be asking yourself why she would leave the second cub for such a long period after such an ordeal. The Nkoveni female was in fact trying to protect her second cub. Firstly, by distracting the Flat rock male from seeking the cub out and secondly, possibly tricking him into believing in the future that she may be his.

Let me explain…

The Flat rock male stands over the Nkoveni female. They were distracted from a session of mating by a herd of impala that wandered past.

When a female leopard is in oestrus (ready to mate), she may mate with more than one male in order to try and secure the future of her cubs through more than one male. But the Nkoveni female is not in oestrus and this leads us to believe that leopards enter into a state known as false oestrus. This is a tactic that has evolved as a defence mechanism the female can use to distract a male that has killed or threatened her current cubs. If the remaining cubs are of the right age and he does not see them for an extended period of time after the mating session, then there will be a chance that he may believe that the cubs are in fact his.

One of many mating bouts between the Flat rock male and Nkoveni female. The male leaps off the female to avoid being caught by her extended claws.

Leopards can sometimes be found mating in fairly awkward positions. In fact, I have even seen leopards mating in a tree before.

Whether or not the cub is too old for the Flat rock male to ever think that he fathered her remains to be seen. For now the behaviour that the Nkoveni female displayed has given her young cub a chance at survival.

The Nkoveni female is trailed by a hyena as she begins her return towards her young cub. Hyenas will often follow leopards in the hope that they will hunt and will have the chance of stealing the carcass.

The young female cub that survived the ordeal.

To date she has shown very strong mothering capabilities and was unlucky to lose her first cub. It’s shown me again, the incredible lengths a mother will go to protect her young and, if at all possible, has increased my level of respect for these beautiful cats.

Filed under Leopards Wildlife

Involved Leopards

Nkoveni 2:2 Female

Nkoveni 2:2 Female

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Flat Rock 3:2 Male

Flat Rock 3:2 Male

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About the Author

Nick Kleer

Field Guide

Nick joined the Londolozi team from Thornybush Game Reserve, and immediately began revealing his photographic potential, especially in the passion with which he pursued knowledge. An almost fanatical approach to improving his photography has seen him gain a rapid understanding of all the ...

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15 Comments

on How Far Would You Go To Protect Your Offspring?

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Nickolette Karabush

This is SUCH an interesting blog! Thank you! The Nkoveni female did a great job protecting her female cub. I am so happy to hear that she is ok!

Leonie De Young

A nice blog Nick and thanks for explaining the behavioural patterns of the leopards. It is very sad that one cub was killed, but let us hope that the other will survive. It is a tough life for animals in the wild. Thank you.

Denise Vouri

Wonderful photos and an informative story about the protective instincts of female leopards. I believe male lions will often commit infanticide but have not heard this to be the case for cheetahs. Is it because the males are more solitary??

Nick Kleer

Hi Denise, all leopards are solitary by nature. This is not the reason for the killing however. A male will kill another males cubs in the hope that the female who mothered them will come into oestrus again. His instincts to sire his own cubs are extremely strong.

Denise Vouri

What I was referring to were cheetah males – will they kill their offspring in order to sire more cubs? I know the males are very solitary except when traveling with their brother. Thanks.

Marinda Drake

Interesting blog Nic. Does more male cubs get killed than female cubs? Did the Flat rock male seek the male cub out or was it a random act? What happened to the cub in the 6 days it was left alone. Did it kill something or just lay low waiting for the mother to return?

Nick Kleer

Hi Marinda, there is no preference for male or female cubs. I think it was a kill because of an opportunity, he wanted the food in the tree and found Nkoveni and her cubs there.

Mary Beth Wheeler

A sad yet amazing story, Nick. What incredible behavior from Nkoveni to protect her remaining cub – the powerful bond of motherhood! Could this really be all instinct? I suspect not!

Nick Kleer

Hi Mary Beth, I believe it is instinctual behaviour. It may be a response passed down through the years in certain genes. Thank you for the reply.

Deborah Llewelyn

Thank you for the story Nick – so sad to lose one of the cubs. We had such memorable sightings of them. Which one was killed?

Sally S.

Great read Thank you

Jill Larone

Nkoveni is an amazing mother, as her mother, Mashaba, is as well. Hopefully her remaining cub will survive, but so sad for the loss of the little male cub. Thank you for your write-up Nick, and beautiful pictures!

Eulalia Angédu

Beautiful pictures there.The explanations in your text are quite convincing.Good work Nick.

Callum Evans

Definetly a well-thought strategy. Heard of this being used by other leopards before, including leopards on Londolozi during which female mated with two rival males (who had killed two of her litters) at different times. I think that leopard’s name was Manana?

Nick Kleer

Thank you all very much for the response. It really means alot.

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