The real value of a platform like this one (the Blog) is that the longer it runs for, the more it increases in value as an archive of information.

By simply working back through time, one can get a far better idea of how things have played out over the years; how different lions fit in where, which leopard is which other one’s parent, etc.

I’ll regularly go back in time in order to find out what happened on this day in the year 20-something, more for interest’s sake than anything else, and my most recent look back turned up quite a happy story.

I thought I’d go back 5 years from the 15th February, and as it happened, the post on that day (2013) was the 66th Week in Pictures. Coincidentally that was the day that we reinstated TWIP as a permanent feature on the blog, and it has been running consistently ever since. Two pictures from that post caught my eye: the last two in the post of one of the Ximpalapala leopard cubs.

If you want to know more about this litter of three, you can search the archives from around that time and the year before, when they were officially discovered by ranger Dean Smithyman high up on Ximpalapala koppie.

Our first views of the cubs were only from far away. One can just be seen in the centre of this photo, dropping down the side of a big boulder.

The connection with today is that one of those cubs, offspring of the relatively unknown and extremely skittish Ximpalapala female, is still alive and on the verge of raising her own successful litter.

She is the Tatowa female.

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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

Lineage
Short Tail Female
Identification
markings
Timeline
15 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
2 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist

The only survivor of a litter of three (we believe the other two were killed by the Gowrie male), she is now firmly established in Londolozi’s southern and central areas as the resident territorial female, yet true to the nature of her mother, remains as a relatively unknown entity.

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The Gowrie male first appeared in the Sabi Sands around 2011. Judging by his size, he is estimated to have been born around 2005/6.

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Gowrie 2:2 Male

Lineage
Unknown
Identification
markings
Timeline
8 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
0 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist

She was born to the Short Tailed female in 2002 in the same litter as the Tugwaan male, but since then records are sketchy at best.

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Ximpalapala 4:4 Female

Lineage
Short Tail Female
Identification
markings
Timeline
8 stories
Territory
maps
Parents
1 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
Videos
playlist

Her wide, staring eyes always set her apart from her siblings.

Initially upon becoming independent, there wasn’t much space for her on the borders of her mother’s already small territory, so she was forced to move quite a bit further south in order to avoid other resident females.
Establishing herself in the south-western parts of the reserve, she was seen only very infrequently. Some sightings were rather dramatic though; I remember one in which she had hoisted a young kudu kill into a marula tree. The carcass must have weighed well over twice her own bodyweight, yet somehow she had managed to haul it up there.

The Tatowa female and the litter she was born into spent prodigious amounts of time in the marula trees along the Ximpalapala crest. Here she descends ahead of her sister, who disappeared around the time the Gowrie male took over the territory.

It’s only when one starts looking at research data over a long period of time that you are able to discern patterns in a population, and thankfully when it comes to the leopard population here, extensive records have been kept for over 40 years.
The one thing we keep harping on about, and the sad reality we have to accept, is the high mortality rate among cubs. Knowing how few cubs make it to independence, the Tatowa female’s survival is in itself a minor miracle.

When looking back five years and coming across a cub story, the likelihood is it won’t or didn’t have a happy ending, so to inadvertently stumble across this one about the Tatowa female was a wonderful way to bring the week to a close.

I think in all of this there’s a lesson of some kind, but truth be told, I’m struggling a bit to put my finger on exactly it. I think it may not even be about the leopard. I think it’s more to do with gratitude, that I’ve been here long enough to be able to watch this diminutive female sail past the biggest milestones of here life so far. She survived the Gowrie male that most likely killed her siblings. Despite her small size and being forced to try and establish herself far from the relative safety of her mother’s borders, she managed to claim a decent territory, which she has thus far defended successfully. And although she lost her first litter (it was never seen), all the ingredients are there for her to get her current offspring through to maturity.

The Tatowa female’s current litter. The male is on the left, and the size difference between him and his smaller sister is already evident.

The area is patrolled by the Inyathini male; in his prime, currently unchallenged, and most likely set to be around for awhile, so threat from marauding male leopards is low.
Minimal lion activity has been observed on that section of the reserve in recent months, so the cubs’ second biggest threat isn’t much of a worry, and the hyena population becomes less and less of a threat as the cubs grow and their climbing skills get better and better.

The cubs are probably not even a year old yet, or at least are there or thereabouts, so they’re not out of the woods yet, but each time they are seen builds mounting confidence within the ranging and tracking team that they will make it.

I guess I just love the fact that amidst all the dynamics of the leopard population here, the drama that plays out and the attempt we make to keep the most accurate records possible, there is still a female out there who manages to stay right below the radar, is simply doing her thing, and despite the complete lack of attention on her, may very well be first female in 7 years to successfully raise a litter of two cubs.
I still get just as excited about this as I did when I saw young cubs for the first time, and that alone I find thrilling!

Filed under Leopards Wildlife

Involved Leopards

Tatowa 3:3 Female

Tatowa 3:3 Female

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Ximpalapala 4:4 Female

Ximpalapala 4:4 Female

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Gowrie 2:2 Male

Gowrie 2:2 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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20 Comments

on When a Leopard Cub Grows Up

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Marinda Drake

It is lovely to be able to go back in history and have good memories of what we have experienced. I sometimes read older posts on the blog to get an idea of what happened to a specific leopard or pride of lions. We were fortunate to view the Tatowa female with an Impala lamb kill. Unfortunately we did not see her cubs.

James Tyrrell

Hi Marinda,
When was this? Maybe the cubs were still too small to be taken to kills. Else sometimes if the kill is very small (like an impala lamb) the female won’t even bother bringing the cubs to it.
Best regards,
James

Marinda Drake

Hi James it was in the beginning of December last year. I think the cubs were seen in the afternoon at the kill. We saw the Tatowa female in the morning. It was a lovely sighting with the Impala mother running around close to the tree that the leopard was in looking for her baby.

James Tyrrell

Hi Marinda,

Wow, sounds pretty dramatic!

Richard Houghton

Very interesting blog James. Brings back memories for us also. We saw the Ximpalapala cubs in 2013 and were also lucky enough to see the Tatowa female this New Year for the first time. It was great to see how she has progressed.

Richard Houghton

James Tyrrell

Hi Richard,
Great that you got to see her as a cub! Was it up on the koppie?

Richard Houghton

We saw Mum and the cubs in the grasslands just to the SouthWest of the koppie as they were getting little bigger.

Darlene Knott

Wonderful blog entry, James! Leopards are my favorite. This beautiful female is a survivor extraordinaire! And her cubs are beautiful. So hopeful that they both survive! Thanks for checking the archives and coming up with this beautiful story of life in the Bush.

Mary Beth Wheeler

Nice story, James. The ability to follow these beautiful creatures over time sets Londolozi above & beyond other lodges We looked for Tatowa last year but no luck; perhaps in June…!

James Tyrrell

Hi Mary Beth,

She certainly is one of the harder leopards to find. Since she sometimes get seen for weeks, it’s difficult to know where to start looking!
June will be a good time to look for here as the bush will be a lot more open!
Best regards!

Phil Schultz

Well James, I’ve only been following this blog for 2.5 years, starting prior to my visit to Londolozi in 2016. There’s no question that the blog adds to the experience of visiting Londolozi as visitors can, from afar, keep up with the goings on— the pride politics, cub births, etc. over long periods of time especially as they relate to sightings a visitor had on their own trip. One afternoon in May 2016 spent with the Mashaba female and yearling cub with an impala kill in a tree or a morning with the Matimba male lions and a Tsalala female with cubs gaurding a kudu kill, coming to this blog and reading about these actual individuals over time is like reconnecting with an old friend and reliving the experience. I’ve visited other camps in Africa and I haven’t seen anything close to the quality and frequency of updates of the Londolozi blog so I appreciate what yourself and your colleagues do. Will be back for a second visit in a few months and am taking notes ; )

James Tyrrell

Hi Phil,
Thanks very much for your kind words!
You’ll be pleased to know the Mashaba yearling you saw in 2016 is alive and well and was seen this morning on a vervet monkey kill.

Don’t take too many notes before your next visit! Just let things pan out the way they are meant to, without any expectations on your part, and I promise you will have a much more rewarding experience!! 😉

Best,
James

Alexander Hamilton

Beautiful story,James.The Tatowa female is a survivor,good to see her doing well.I was wondering,do you know if the cub of the Nhlanguleni female is still alive and is the Nanga female the one who has 2 young cubs?

James Tyrrell

Hi Alex (I have a cousin called Alexander Hamilton!)

We don’t know if the Nhlanguleni cub is still alive. We see the female so infrequently as it is. She was seen on a kill not too long a go but it didn’t look as though the cub was there, although having said that, the area was very thick, and judging by how skittish the cub was when first viewed, it could very well have been there, just hiding somewhere close by.
And yes it is the Nanga female who has two small cubs, although they’re currently being denned atop a Koppie with minimal viewing potential.

Best regards

Carol Sturgeon

Your writing skills are so impressive! But most of all what is most noteworthy in your blogs is your love for these amazing leopards! Just love reading your blogs and the love you have for Londolozi and these gorgeous cats and all the animals there!

Denise Vouri

Wonderful blog James!! Leopards are my favorite animal and I long to see cubs. Perhaps my next trip……

James Tyrrell

Hi Denise,
Fingers crossed!!! 🙂

Callum Evans

She really is an incredible leopard!

Kelly Bernard

Awesome heart warming post!!!!! ♥️♥️

Michael & Terri Klauber

James, It is so awesome that you have all the data AND personal history with so many of the leopards. We always pray for the cubs and hope these make it!

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