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