Quite often with animal species out here, the male of the kind is more territorial than the female. This is true of rhino, hippo and impala just to name a few. One animal this is not true of however is a leopard and I had an amazing sighting a few weeks ago to prove it.

My guests and I set out to look for the Mashaba young female who had three kills stashed in three separate trees, something she managed to achieve during the first heavy rains of the season. Upon arriving at the Marula tree where the remains of her last kill hung from the tree, we were met with a female leopard that was feeding. As she lifted her head to look at us though, tracker Jerry Hambana and I shared startled expressions. This wasn’t the leopard we were expecting to find at all. The leopard in front of us was the Tatowa female.

Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.

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Mashaba 5:3 Young Female

Lineage
Sunsetbend
Identification
markings
Timeline
24 stories
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maps
Parents
1 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
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playlist
 
5
Tatowa 3:3 Female
2012 - present

The Tatowa female was one of a litter of three females born in early 2012 to the Ximpalapala female of the north.

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Tatowa 3:3 Female

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Short Tail Female
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markings
Timeline
10 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
2 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
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leopard, Tatowa, Londolozi Game Reserve

The last of the Mashaba Young female’s kills hangs from the bare branches of a Marula tree. When we first arrived, we assumed that the leopard feeding was the Mashaba Young female but we soon realised how wrong we were. Photograph by Londolozi Guest, Joan Borinstein

leopard, Tatowa, Londolozi

As she lifted her head, tracker Jerry and I realised we were in fact watching the Tatowa female. Despite there not being much meat left on the kill, she had apparently snuck in to take advantage of the scraps. Photograph by Londolozi Guest, Joan Borinstein

The Tatowa female is a good three years the Mashaba young female’s senior and our first assessment of the situation was that she had managed to bully the younger female off her kill. After about half an hour of feeding though, she lifted her head and glanced around nervously, then swiftly descended the tree and started southwards. Not ten seconds later did the Mashaba young female appear, apparently having been watching this injustice from a thicket nearby.

Tatowa, leopard, Londolozi

Upon noticing the arrival of the Mashaba Young female, the Tatowa female descended the Marula, attempting to make a hasty retreat. Photograph by Amy Attenborough

Instead of allowing the Tatowa female to get away with it though, the Mashaba young female took chase, forcing the Tatowa female to scale high into the boughs of a Marula tree, where she moved about from spindly branch to spindly branch, hissing at the younger female below her.

Tatowa and Mashaba young female

Can you spot the two leopards? The Tatowa female is in the far top left corner and the Mashaba young female in the far bottom right corner. It was only when the younger female had left the area and returned to the remains of her kill that the Tatowa female descended the tree. Photograph by Amy Attenborough

The Mashaba young female showed no signs of backing off. In fact she paced backwards and forwards at the base of the tree, scent marking the ground and salivating heavily. At one point she even let out the typically guttural territorial call. After pacing for a while, she turned and started making her way back to her kill, in all likelihood hoping to finish off the last of the scraps in peace.

Mashaba young female, leopard, salivating

The Mashaba young female stands below the Marula tree she has driven the Tatowa female into. Notice how she is salivating heavily, something typical of an agitated leopard. Photograph by Londolozi Guest, Joan Borinstein

mashaba young female, leopard, scent marking

Here she was scratching her feet into the ground and urinating, thereby marking the area as her territory. Upon descending the tree, the Tatowa female scent marked right on top of this spot. Photograph by Londolozi Guest, Joan Borinstein

The Tatowa female soon descended after her and funnily enough walked from scent mark to scent mark, leaving her urine on top of the Mashaba young female’s as a show of dominance. She let out a territorial call of her own, which only enraged the younger female, causing her to run from her kill and charge in at the Tatowa female once more.

The Tatowa female leopard checking that the coast is clear before she descends from the tree. It was only after she saw that the Mashaba young female was back on her kill that she came down. Photograph by Londolozi Guest, Joan Borinstein

I am always amazed by how incredibly easy leopards make scaling a tree of this height look. Using their tails for balancing and their claws for grip they can get to places in a tree that no other cat can. Photograph by Londolozi Guest, Joan Borinstein

Photograph by Londolozi Guest, Joan Borinstein

On this occasion, the charge was enough to scare the older female off, who headed towards a waterhole nearby before disappearing into some dense cover and continuing southwards towards the core of her territory.

The Tatowa female drinks from a small pan near to where the interaction occurred. From there she headed south into the heart of her territory and the place we assume she was keeping her cubs. Photograph by Londolozi Guest, Joan Borinstein

The Tatowa female glances back upon hearing the territorial rasping calls of the Mashaba young female. It seems that on this occasion, the leopard we least expected to be dominant won this particular battle. Photograph by Londolozi Guest, Joan Borinstein

Check out the incredible footage below of what can happen when all the typical intimidation tactics I have described above don’t work to deter either of the opponents. Here the Mashaba female and Tutlwa female take each other on in a full scale fight.

For me, I was not so intrigued by the fact that the Tatowa and Mashaba young females were having a territorial tussle but rather by the strength of fight the Mashaba young female was putting up. Despite being only two and a half years old, she was showing signs of attempting to establish her territory and was not standing to be bullied off her kills. As the Mashaba, Hlanguleni and Nkoveni females continue to dominate the areas surrounding the Londolozi camps and the Sand River on either side of it, the Mashaba young female seems to be choosing to head south instead of north, an interesting choice with the current lack of leopard competition in the north.

9
Mashaba 3:3 Female
2008 - present

The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the camps and vehicles.

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Mashaba 3:3 Female

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

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
 
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
45 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
2 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist

As always it seems that time will tell what will become of this dispute between the Mashaba young female and the Tatowa female but one thing it has shown us for sure is that you should never rule out the underdog in any fight.

Involved Leopards

Tatowa 3:3 Female

Tatowa 3:3 Female

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Mashaba 5:3 Young Female

Mashaba 5:3 Young Female

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Mashaba 3:3 Female

Mashaba 3:3 Female

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Nhlanguleni 3:2 Female

Nhlanguleni 3:2 Female

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Nkoveni 2:2 Female

Nkoveni 2:2 Female

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About the Author

Amy Attenborough

Media Team

Amy has a rich field-guiding history, having spent time at both Phinda and Ngala Game Reserves. This diversity of past guiding locations brought her an intimate understanding of different biomes across South Africa, and she immediately began making a name for herself as ...

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8 Comments

on Why You Should Never Rule Out The Underdog

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Marinda Drake

Incredible sighting and interaction between the two leopards. The Mashaba young female has always a feisty little animal. She is my favourite female leopard.

Callum Evans

An incredible sighting with amazing pictures!! I loved the ones of the Tutwola female descending the tree, the light and composition were just perfect! I also loved how leopard behaviour is explained here, with the typical intimidation postures and signs of aggression (the salivation in the pictures and the parallel walk in the video), I remember reading about them in the book Living with Leopards by Nils Kure.

Lucie Easley

Thanks for the narrative that goes along with these awesome photographs of two beautiful girls.

Mike Ryan

Incredible how she has grown our favourite Leopard

Ian Hall

Great story, and really good photos.

Darlene Knott

Wow, Amy, that was quite an interaction. Loved the photos and video. Incredible! Thanks so much for sharing.

Denise Vouri

Amy, great sighting of these two females and kudos to Joan for the photos. Good information on the Mashaba female’s behavior- namely the frothing around the mouth and scent marking.

Judy Hayden

The baby is growing up. She’s learned that it’s a tough world out there. Thank you for this story. We have to have hope that these great cats will survive this brutal world, that is becoming more dangerous everyday. Love, Joy, Hope and Peace. Have a Merry Christmas.

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