The problem with reporting on stages of the lives of individual animals is that after a number of posts, it might start savoring of repetition. When lions reach a certain age, they tend to do one thing if female, another if male. The same with leopards. Although specific incidents and the day-to-day will differ greatly between animals, their lives will pretty much tend to follow similar trajectories.

It’s a different story however, when you find yourself becoming more emotionally invested in the well-being of an individual leopard than you are in others. Especially when you can’t really place your finger on why. Nick Kleer loves the Mashaba female, I know the Nkoveni female was Callum Gowar’s favourite, and for me it was always the 4:4 male who I felt the greatest desire to track and spend time viewing.
Each of us will have our reasons for our choices.

But now I find myself repeatedly draw to the far south-eastern corner of Londolozi to look for one particular leopard; the Ndzanzeni young male. He has featured on the blog a number of times over the past few months, mainly because of his mother’s serious injury. Thankfully she has made a full recovery, and in doing so, managed to get the young male through his last few months of dependance. 
Textbooks will tell you how leopards tend to leave their mothers at between 18 and 24 months of age, but it has been recorded far earlier in some instances, and much later in others. The Nanga female has forced cubs out at 11 months before in order to birth a new litter, and some young leopards have been seen being taken to kills as old as three years! I would say that at Londolozi the age of independence tends to be younger than 18 months, but we can go into this another time.
The Ndzanzeni young male is about 17 months old now, and as has been written before, his independence is imminent. And for some reason, despite the need to not form an attachment to a wild animal, I find myself more worried for him than I should be. Yes, he is going to have to hunt for himself, same as every other leopard, and in a couple of years he will have to try and establish a territory, the same as any other leopard. But unlike others I have seen reach a similar age and then go on to (hopefully) mature successfully, this young male I find myself feeling a little bit sorry for. Now I know we try and avoid athropomorphising on this forum, but the fact of the matter is – and I have to be honest about this – this leopard comes across as a little bit goofy.

What description can one use other than goofy?

Going it alone, for a wild cat like a leopard, should happen at an age when he or she is able to fend for itself. Hunting, escaping danger, knowing what to do and when; the instinctive behavioural traits that will have been honed over a year and a half of playing with mother, chasing small mongooses and climbing every fallen tree in sight. These are non-negotiables for a newly-independent leopard. But with the Ndzanzeni young male – and I’m sure there is a biological reason for this, whether it be facial structure, spot pattern, way of movement – you kind of get the feeling that he doesn’t really know what’s going on. He looks at you with what look like questioning eyes, he sniffs around in random places as if he’s lost something, and literally for the past six weeks he’s been spending virtually all his time within a few hundred meters of one specific waterhole! Maybe he’s wandering off at night and returning in the day, but if you look at the sightings records for November and December, nine out of ten of the sightings of him will have been recorded at Mad Elephant Pan, and almost all of them without his mother.

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
17 stories
2 known
1 known

The natural transition to independence will occur as the young leopard gets left alone for longer and longer by its mother, until eventually she won’t come back for it and the cub realizes it needs to start finding its own food in order to survive. With the Ndzanzeni young male, he’s either having great success catching food around the Pan and doesn’t want to leave (his mother has been seen once or twice in the area with a kill, which they’ve shared), or he simply hasn’t realized that he has been left for good. If you follow a leopard, especially a territorial adult, it will generally seem to be moving with purpose, but with this young male, his movements generally lack direction, urgency, and often, seemingly, any real logic. Of course much of this will be due to youth and inexperience, and a persisting of certain adolescent traits, but you still can’t shake the feeling that this poor creature is just unprepared for what’s in front of him, and he’s thinking “Uhh.. what now?”.

The young male has been spending an inordinate amount of time at this particular waterhole.

Please understand that most of this is in my head, and certainly not scientifically accurate reporting. As I can’t say what’s going on in his young head, nor if he actually has been left for good by the Ndzanzeni female, these are all just my own interpretations of events, probably more for my own entertainment than anything else. It would be frowned upon in the scientific community to refer to a leopard as ‘goofy’, and sacrilege to pen that description in a published paper.
Thankfully we don’t have those kind of restrictions here, so I’m going to go ahead and continue to refer to him as goofy; I’m going to shake my head whenever I see him doing something which I perceive as being particularly silly, and I’m certainly going to keep making regular trips down to Mad Elephant Pan to keep monitoring his growth and progress.

The Inyathini male – the suspected father of the Ndzanzeni young male – will most likely pressure the young leopard out of his territory in the next two years.

I know though – or at least I hope – that in the coming months he’ll get bigger and bigger, he’ll start moving further and further afield, and then sadly, once he reaches a certain age and his father the Inyathini male starts trying to force him out of the territory, he’ll simply be gone.

I wish him luck. Seems like he’s going to need it.

Filed under Leopards Wildlife

Involved Leopards

Ndzanzeni 4:3 Female

Ndzanzeni 4:3 Female

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Inyathini 3:3 Male

Inyathini 3:3 Male

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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 Going Solo

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Marinda Drake

Lovely blog James. A person get so attatched to these animals. I know we should not, but you can not help yourself. Just reading on the blog about them and not even having seen them for real is exciting. Each one has got their own special caracteristics. So it is perfectly okay to call this young male goofy.

James Tyrrell

Haha, thanks Marinda! Hopefully he is still around the next time you and Des visit!

Ramone Lewis

Why don’t you name the leopard and add him to the leopard of londolozi

James Tyrrell

Hi Ramone,
Excellent point.
He will be getting added in the next week or two, along with a number of other individuals. We will still be calling him the Ndzanzeni young male though, as it is only when the leopards start exhibiting signs f territorial behaviour that we will choose a name for them; a name based on the territory they look like they are establishing themselves in.
Best regards

Darlene Knott

Thanks for the laugh, James! He is a pretty leopard, but the one pic in particular, he does look a little ‘goofy’. Keep us up to date on him. Now I will be looking for new stories on him! Loved this post!

James Tyrrell

Thanks Darlene! Hopefully he sticks around the waterhole for a bit longer so we always know where to find him…

Lucie Easley

Thank you, James. How can you not get attached to all of these magnificent creatures? And then one comes along that particulars grips your interest, and yes, your heart. Having never seen, in person, any of the residents who share their world with you, I feel an attachment and so look forward to posts about them. I certainly hope this young goofy boy finds his way.

James Tyrrell

Thanks Lucie,
Us too!

Jane Addey

James – loved this article especially as we saw this leopard when he was about 11/12 months chasing squirrels up trees and looking round his environment with ‘big eyes’ wondering at it all. I don’t think you should be concerned about anthropomorphising. I actually think animals have behaviours & traits just like every other living thing including us. Those of us who have spent time with wild animals see behaviours & traits that we would describe as having fun, sadness, moods, getting on with particular pride/group members and not others, being smarter, being a bit goofy etc. These are not human behaviours & traits – but animal behaviours and just because we can describe the behaviours and traits doesn’t mean other animals do not display similar behaviours and traits to us (we are animals after all!).

James Tyrrell

Hi Jane,
Thanks for the comments. I think our main concern would be the potential to confuse what to us would be outward signs of a particular emotion, with what an animal is actually feeling, if anything at all. It’s one of things that if you attribute certain human qualities to one animal, where do you stop, and it has the potential to be a slippery slope, so we’re hanging back from edge for now… (apart from the goofy leopard!)

Denise Vouri

Greetings James,
I would think in your line of work it would not be difficult to become involved with a specific animal – no matter the species. From my perspective leopards seem to draw you in , more than other animals in the bush. This young male, from the Ndzanzeni female does have a goofy face – reminding me of a character called Alfalfa in an old tv series. I hope for his sake he can shake off his lackluster ways, usually the sign of an undisciplined teenager, and “man up” to his new responsibilities as a young, single , independent male. Keep those photos of him coming and I applaud your interest in this goofy guy.

James Tyrrell

Thanks Denise,
DOn’t worry, you’ll hopefully be seeing plenty more of him in the coming months 🙂

Joanne Wadsworth

I’m with you, James. He does seem to appear immature for his age (especially in the close-up image) and going against the usual pattern others have set out when going independent. Keep a watchful eye out and let us know how he fairs. One always cheers on weaker/confused ones….especially if they appear goofy! Lol….

James Tyrrell

Hi Joanne; I have to admit I was cheating a bit, as the close-up image was from when he was a bit younger, but it was the goofiest one I could find 🙂

Alessandra Cuccato

I think he looks adorable. I hope he will stick around for a while. Great blog! 🙂

James Tyrrell

Thanks Alessandro, we’re hoping so too…

Michael & Terri Klauber

James, Thanks for your update! We agree with you too and remember a sighting (with you on the next vehicle) where it looked like his mother was yelling at him and he looked quite afraid! We will look forward to hearing the name you all give to him? Hopefully not a Disney character name! 😉

James Tyrrell

Haha I remember the sighting very well! And no, don’t worry, the Goofy thing isn’t a name, more of a description…
We’ll wait until he’s becoming territorial before we name him, but with males, that often only happens when he’s left Londolozi, so in all likelihood it will be someone else who names him.
Who knows though, maybe he’ll settle close by.
Best wishes!

Judith Guffey

A goofy leopard…..I love him!

Jill Larone

Great post James! Hopefully he will find his way and do well on his own. He looks very sweet but does appear a little unsure of what to do without Mom. Do you know if he has been hunting successfully on his own? Please keep us updated on how he is doing!

James Tyrrell

Hi Jill, I know he has been seen catching a dwarf mongoose, but he has yet to be observed taking anything larger, at least to my knowledge.
Having said that, I’m sure he has been managing larger prey, but so far no one has seen a takedown…

Andrea Mc Donagh

Awww great reading its nice to hear you’s do get attached to certain individuals ..I do in these blogs and i’ve never even seen them …plus it will be great to read how he is getting on and if he makes it to adulthood and even top male …

James Tyrrell

Thanks for the comments Andrea,
He was found at the same waterhole yesterday!!

Callum Evans

He could end up being, at least temporarily, another key player in the Londolozi leopard dynamics. I wonder if he’ll go through a phase when he targets animals far beyond the normal prey range, like certain other male leopards that I’ve read about have done (they went after buffalo calves, zebras and adult kudu’s with mixed successs). You might almost call it the experimentation phase, learning the limits early on.

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