One thing you learn fairly quickly as a ranger or tracker out here is how risky it is to get attached to a wild animal, particularly a cub. With the odds stacked against them and survival rates low for the big cats, happy stories are, sadly, few and far between.

So when one does occur, there is much rejoicing.

The Tatowa female, one of Londolozi’s least seen, was last viewed with her two cubs well over a month ago. Inhabiting an area in central Londolozi where very few things are in your favour when it comes to finding leopards (extensive thickets, difficult vehicle access and difficult substrates for tracking), sightings of her have been sporadic . Since her cubs have been weaned for a number of months now, a simple viewing of the female would give no indication as to whether or not they were still alive, as she would not have suckle marks telling us that the cubs had been nursing.
Given that the cubs are around 9 months old now, we knew that the Tatowa female would be leaving them for longer and longer as she hunted to feed all three of them, so even though she hadn’t been seen with either male or female cub for a good few weeks, we still held hope that they were alive, concealed in a thicket or deep drainage line of which her territory is full.

My last sighting of this leopard family was from August last year. The male cub is pictured here nuzzling his mother, and the female cub was still quite skittish at the time.

And our hope was rewarded a few days ago when Londolozi’s Managing Director, Chris Kane-Berman, was out on drive and radioed in that he had found a female with two cubs next to the Tatowa drainage line (after which the female is named). Knowing that the Tatowa female was the only leopard that could possibly have two cubs on the reserve (the only other female still raising a cub is the Tamboti female, and she only has one) we immediately raced to the area, and found Chris viewing the three leopards lounging on the fallen trunk of an old Schotia tree.

The young female grooms her mother.

A last lingering glance before following her mother and brother down into the drainage line behind her.

The young male had a full belly although the other two were slightly less well-fed, so we presume they had just finished off a kill, most likely something small.

The mother led the cubs away down the drainage shortly after they were found, eventually leaving them in a rocky area near Python Rock, itself an iconic location in Londolozi’s leopard history. There they remained for the next 24 hours while she went off and hunted. Rangers returning to the scene next morning found them nearby, huddled together on top of a termite mound.

The two cubs the morning after they were first rediscovered. The male (left) is already noticeably bigger than his sister.

And now, once more, they are gone; disappeared into the fastness of their mother’s territory. As discussed previously on this blog, the survival chances of leopard cubs are highly dependant on how successfully the dominant male (their father) can defend his territory. The number one cause of mortality in leopard cubs is male leopards that aren’t the father, and in this case, it is the Inyathini male that is ruling the roost down in southern Londolozi. Thankfully for the Tatowa female and her cubs, the death of the Piva male, although it saw the Inyathini male expanding his territory further north, didn’t see him abandoning his southern areas. He still patrols through the area, venturing right down beyond Londolozi’s southern boundaries, and the Tatowa female’s territory lies firmly within his.

So while the Nkoveni, Mashaba, Tamboti and Nhlanguleni females have all experienced the knock-on effects of the Piva male’s demise, the Tatowa female has not and it has been business as usual.

As long as the status quo remains unchanged, even though we may not see them for another month, the two Tatowa cubs are looking more and more likely to be the first litter to survive intact to independence since the Tutlwa litter of 2012!

Filed under Leopards Wildlife

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 ...

View James's profile

23 Comments

on Missing Leopard Cubs Alive and Well!

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Marinda Drake

Beautiful image of the two cubs together. We viewed the Tatowa female with a baby impala kill when we were at Londolozi. I could add her to my list of leopards seen, as it was the first time we have seen her. Her cubs were not with her unfortunately. What made it an interesting sighting was that the Impala mother was running around in the vicinity of the baby Impala kill waiting or looking for her baby. With the leopard in the tree.

Andrea Mc Donagh

Fantastic news ….and great reading lets keep everything crossed their on the home stretch.

Denise Vouri

Great news! The cubs look strong and healthy in the photo of the brother and sister. It has to be so exciting to finally spot them after all these months.

Is it true that a higher percentage of male cubs survive to adulthood? Is this because the females are smaller and have to be more clever to survive? Just curious……

James Tyrrell

Hi Denise,

Good question and off the top of my head I can’t say for sure.
Let me get back to you…

Joanne Wadsworth

What wonderful news! I can’t imagine the excitement felt at Londolzi when the discovery was made. Wishing these two cubs only the very best as their life, hopefully, moves forward.

James Tyrrell

Hi Joanne, Thanks!

Us too!

Russ Considine

Great stories, video and photos – Thank you! Russ

James Tyrrell

Hi Russ,
Thanks for the comments!

Mary Beth Wheeler

Wonderful news, James! We’re looking forward to seeing them when we’re there in June; she was well-hidden last year!

James Tyrrell

Hi Mary Beth,

Hopefully they put in an appearance for you!

Alessandra Cuccato

Hi James. That is great news! I have a question, when I was there beginning of december one of the rangers found Nhlanguleni’s den site. We couldn’t go as obviously it was a one vehicle sighting. Have these cubs been lost in the meantime? And how is Ingrid Dam’s male cub? Sorry for the many questions. Thank you.

James Tyrrell

Hi Alessandro,
Sadly it appears as though the Nhlanguleni female has lost her litter; she was found on a kill a couple of days ago without visible signs of suckle marks. Having said that, we are unsure of how old the cubs are, so there is also a chance they are weaned and therefore no suckle marks would be visible. The only sighting that has been had so far showed that the cub (only one was seen0 was quite skittish, never having seen a vehicle before.
Let’s keep fingers crossed that it’s a similar situation to the Tatowa cubs; no sightings doesn’t necessarily mean that the worst has happened!

The Ingrid Dam cub hasn’t been seen in a few weeks but I believe it was alive and well over Christmas…

Best Regards

Ian Hall

Wonderful

Gemma Kemps

Hi James,
I was wondering if the leopards have actual names? I ask because when I watch SafariLive I am wondering if these are any of the same leopards?

James Tyrrell

Hi Gemma,
We are in a slightly different part of the reserve to the SafariLive guys, so it is very unlikely we will ever see the same individuals as them, as leopards are territorial.
We do name leopards here, but our naming is more for reference purposes and record keeping. The leopards are named after prominent features in their territories.
Have a look at http://blog.londolozi.com/2013/06/25/re-naming-londolozis-latest/ for a better explanation of the naming process here.
Best regards

Michael & Terri Klauber

James, That is awesome news! Great to hear that they are starting to come out of their shell and are surviving! Will the father protect them if another male is in the area?

James Tyrrell

Hi Michael and Terri,

I think it would be more a case of the male trying to get an intruder male out of his territory than actively defending cubs.
At least that’s the commonly held belief…

Ginger Brucker

What an exciting feeling it must have been to see these cubs! I was at Londolozi this past June and had the privilege of seeing a mother leopard and her two little cubs. Could this possibly be them?

James Tyrrell

Hi Ginger,

It’s certainly possible. These cubs would have been very small at the time – only a few months old, as their den was discovered in May. Which ranger were you with?

James

Ginger Brucker

I was on STAR and with Boyd and Andrea that day. We had followed the mother from down by the river to where the cubs were. The first cub had come out of hiding quickly when Mom arrived but it took a bit for the second cub to emerge (we were nervous). Mom actually climbed up a tree to look for cub. They then were on the move from spot and we saw all three drinking from a little waterhole. The cubs were smaller for sure than. I thought Boyd had said they may have been 3 months old but I could have that wrong- as I was very engaged in how adorable they were! I can’t imagine the pressure and worry on theses female leopards watching out for their little ones. Thanks for all your great posts. Love staying connected.

Callum Evans

Yes!!! Finally, so great to see that this litter has made it this far! Great sighting too!

Wendy Hawkins

Wow that is a relief & happy moment for us all, especially you the rangers & guests! Thank you for these wonderful pictures of them all together 🙂

James Tyrrell

Hi Wendy,
A big relief for us indeed!

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