It’s common knowledge that leopard cubs have a high mortality rate.
What’s also well known is that competing males are the single biggest cause of cub deaths; interlopers and rival territorial males will kill young leopards that they didn’t father, both to remove potential future competition but mainly to bring the territorial female back into oestrus.

Knowing the facts doesn’t quite prepare you though, when it seems you might see the actual event taking place live in front of you; something that even the most hardened bush-goer won’t want to witness.

The Nhlanguleni female has been stashing a pair of cubs in and around the western reaches of the Sand River on Londolozi, although sightings of the litter have been few and far between. Recently however, Equalizer Ndlovu and Freddy Ngobeni tracked the female and cubs to a prominent boulder cluster where both she and the Mashaba female have been known to den before, and they caught a brief glimpse of one of the cubs on foot.

With no sign of the mother, it was decided that we should return the next day to see if they were still there.

After finding the Anderson male nearby on the morning we returned, we were hoping for the cubs themselves on the rocks themselves as the cherry on top . We weren’t too worried about the Anderson male having been close, as he had mated with the Nhlanguleni female a number of times and it was suspected that he was the cubs’ father, and therefore not a threat to them.

The Nhlanguleni female, easily recognisable by her pink nose. Photograph by James Souchon

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

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Sunsetbend
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markings
Timeline
25 stories
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Parents
2 known
Litters
2 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
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10
Anderson 4:4 Male
2008 - present

Unofficially the biggest leopard in the Sabi Sands, the Anderson male is an absolutely enormous individual in north western Londolozi.

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Anderson 4:4 Male

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markings
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14 stories
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maps
Parents
2 known
Litters
1 known
Offspring
known
Siblings
known
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playlist

We checked the den and then the surrounding area, driving loops, checking game paths and all the dusty tracks, but we couldn’t find any sign of the female returning to her litter, or of her leading them to a kill (they are old enough now to be taken to kills).

Concluding that they were probably still at the den, just remaining hidden, we decided to head home for breakfast, but as we were bypassing the boulders for the last time, we suddenly spied the two cubs on top of one of the big rocks.

Unidentified Male Nhlanguleni Cubs Jt

The cubs came out all by themselves in the late morning.

It was a beautiful view, with the relaxed cubs lying out in the open, completely unconcerned with the presence of a vehicle, which is in stark contrast to the behaviour of the Nhlanguleni female’s last litter.

Not knowing whether or not the mother was there amongst the boulder field, we took a few photos and were preparing to leave the cubs be, when the alarm chattering of a squirrel from further up the riverbed suddenly burst out. Glancing towards the tamboti grove where the squirrel was calling, we saw an adult leopard emerging from the grass, and were thrilled that this was probably the mother returning to the cubs.

However, as the leopard came out into the open, we realized to our horror that this was a male completely unknown to us, and therefore the deadliest threat to the two small leopards, who were still lying exposed on the rock.

The unknown male was sniffing around carefully, and was clearly very aware that another leopard had spent time in the area. He came closer and closer to the den-site to investigate, and our concern levels were rising steadily with his approach.

Unidentified Male Nhlanguleni Cubs Jt 2

The male catches the scent of what was most likely the Nhlanguleni female, and looks towards the boulders.

He got to a point opposite the cubs and paused, and it seemed like he was staring straight at them, but I think they were hidden behind a clump of bushes, and the angle was deceiving us. He still hadn’t caught sight of them.

As soon as the male put his head down to sniff some more, the cubs silently slithered off the back of the rock, hopefully into a deep crack where they would be safe. This is exactly the reason that female leopards choose such dens; crevices and holes provide safe refuges that bigger predators can’t fit into to reach the young.

Unidentified Male Nhlanguleni Cubs Jt 4

The rock on top of which the cubs were lying is just out of frame to the right, exactly where the male is staring.

The male was by now down at the base of the boulders, and after staring for a long time towards where the cubs had been (and he may well have heard some scuffling of them in a hole), he leaped across to the main den area.

Unidentified Male Nhlanguleni Cubs Jt 6

The intruder jumps across the gap to the main den cluster.

By now we were really worried, and concluded that whatever happened, we didn’t want to be around to see it. Should the male catch either of the cubs, “unpleasant to see” wouldn’t quite describe it adequately, but if they stayed safe, there wouldn’t be much to see anyway, and he would most likely simply slink away.

Driving off, we were understandably anxious for the cubs’ safety. Ranger James Souchon and tracker Richard Mthabine checked the area that afternoon but found no sign of the youngsters or their mother. The unidentified male was found again to the north of the Sand River (the den was on the southern bank), so at least he was no longer in the proximity of the cubs’ hiding place.

We knew it might be days before we knew the fate of the cubs, or that we might even never know, but to our enormous relief, 48 hours later, ranger Greg Pingo caught sight of them scurrying back into the safety of the den when he drove past, still alive and none the worse for wear after their ordeal.

Although rival males are the single biggest threat to young leopards, I shudder to think how many times small leopards have potentially fatal encounters like this but escape by little more than a whisker…
At a less secure den site, the outcome might have been very different, and far more tragic.

 

Filed under Leopards Wildlife

Involved Leopards

Nhlanguleni 3:2 Female

Nhlanguleni 3:2 Female

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Anderson 4:4 Male

Anderson 4:4 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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31 Comments

on Leopard Cubs Cheat Death

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Joanne Wadsworth

Don’t think I could bear the awful tragedy of watching Cubs killed by a male Leopard or by anything else for that matter. SO RELIEVED they were spared!

Alexander Hamilton

Hi James,
That unknown male is Hosana from the north,around 2.5 years old.Dangerous for the cubs,but for him also because i don’t think that Anderson would be too pleased to find him in the heart of his territory.

Crystal Safari

Ha! Your unidentified male is Hosana! Karula’s son born Feb. 2nd, 2016. Silly boy! He’ll always do the opposite to what you expect, watch out! 😉

Ramone Lewis

It is possible the White Dam Male leopard son of the White Dam Female and The Maxabeni Male leopard.

Joey Balais

That males leopard is Hosana son of Karula and Tingana

Marinda Drake

Heart stopping experience. Luckily they are safe. It is part of the circle of life but still difficult to see and to read about it.

Mj Bradley

Wow, great to see Hosana, looking well! Thank you for the update. I am glad he didn’t find the Nhlanguleni’s cubs. We miss seeing our silly boy Hosana in the North but knew his time for dispersal was coming.. Hoping he settles somewhere close enough we will get news of him from time to time. He was born 2 Feb 2016 Spot Pattern 3:3 Mother Karula Father thought to be Tingana. Littermate Xongile disappeared in August of 2017. They were orphaned at age 13 months and did quite well on their own. Hosana was know for following his father around and just hanging out with Tingana.. He didn’t mind that Tingana growled at him.. He is quite the character. Thank you again for the update.

Nicole Ann

The unidentified male leopard seems to be a leopard that goes by the name Hosana. This is his facebook page
https://www.facebook.com/Hosana.Male.Leopard/

Ian Hall

So the cubs escape and another leopard on the property. Look forward to learning more about the new leopard.

Linda Buckmaster

The unknown male is Hosana.

He is 27 months old. Born early February 2016 to Karula female and likely Tingana male.

His littermate sister Xongile disappeared mid-August 2017.

Karula went missing mid-March 2017.

So Hosana has been fending for himself since he was 13 months old.

We found that he seems to like/crave company, either guides or other leopards. Until his sister vanished, he was always with Karula, Xongile or both, so he never learned to be a solitary leopard.

Thamba male, Thandi female, Tingana male, Mvula male (RIP), another of Karula’s offspring from a previous litter, and I think Inkanyeni female too.

Sometimes it was sharing a kill, other times laying in close proximity, or simply following close behind in visual range. His Dad, Tingana, was becoming annoyed!

To be honest, I don’t think he was a threat to those cubs. Knowing his personality, he would have likely kept them company until the mom returned.

He is a special boy with a real quirky personality. <3

James Tyrrell

Brilliant, thanks Linda.

Darlene Knott

My heart would have been in my throat. My favorite animal is the leopard and I just love watching their cubs. I could not sit and watch a male kill those beautiful little creatures. I had enough trouble leaving behind a wildebeest calf in Tanzania when we saw it had lost its mother and there were predators all around. If I could have, I would have brought it home with me! 🤣 So very relieved that these cubs survived, Thanks, James!

Mary Beth Wheeler

I realized I’d been holding my breath while reading today’s blog! Great story, happy ending!

Earline Rochester

The interloper is Hosana from Djuma/Chitwa area and the son of Karula. His mother disappeared when he and his sister were young and then so did his sister. Hard to explain his personality. It’s like he craves company. He had an altercation w/Anderson on Elephant Plains which caused him to run in your direction. I hope he does well. He is a favorite of MANY.

Rae Jensan

That leopard is the young Hosana, last son of Karula from Djuma. https://www.facebook.com/pg/Hosana.Male.Leopard

Mother: Karula
Father: Tingana (possibly)
Born: Feb. 2, 2016
Spot Pattern: 3:3
Name Means: Little Chief (also nicknamed Prince)
Littermate: Xongile (female)

Biography
Karula’s young and confident male cub has been given the name “Hosana”. In Xitsonga/Shangaan this means “Little Chief.” His grace and nobility already stand as veritable testament to this and of course only the son of a true Queen could be a little Prince. Hosana is identified by his 3:3 spot pattern as well as his bright yellow-green eyes.

James Tyrrell

Hi Rae,

Great, thanks for the info!

Denise Vouri

Whoosh! That was a heart stopping editorial. I would have hated to know the cubs were killed by the outside male. Thank goodness they live another day!!

Laura Palmer

That’s Hosana from Djuma. So glad to see he is safe and well….glad the cubs are too. Hosana is a very special boy in the hearts of many who watched him grow up.

Callum Evans

Wow, now that really is escaping by a whisker!! I wonder where that male came from, he didn’t look that old

Phil Schultz

We spent the better potion of at least two game drives trying to locate leopard litters along the Sand River last week with Grant and Jerry often tracking mother leopard tracks near known den sites on foot. On one occasion when the guide and tracker were exploring a small donga and known den site just north of the Sand River and northwest of camp, I noticed a large leopard, the Anderson male, quietly crossing the open sand of the Sand River to the tall grasses in the river bed’s middle. Despite a lot of time and effort, the cubs remained hidden and elusive. Jerry and Grant concluded the mother’s had moved the cubs somewhere in the Sand River itself. I saw boulders like this, but am having trouble placing their exact location. Seems like most den sites we checked south of the Sand River were not far from camp with one or two fairly close to the banks directly opposite the home of the Varty’s neighbors to the north

James Tyrrell

Hi Phil, there are quite a few in close proximity to each other, and I know the Nhlanguleni female has moved between at least three in this area in the past before…

Len

James, I don’t think those cubs cheated death…that unidentified male leopard is Hosana from the Djuma area. He survived on his own at a young age as his mom Karula suddenly disappeared and presumed deceased. He is a very socialable cat and probably would have just laid with the cubs. When his father Tingana was recovering from an illness Hosana would go lay within feet of him and this was only a couple of months ago. He is a 3:3 with his right side resembling a nike swoosh. BTW, the 2 BBoys are Nsuku on the left and Tinyo on the right. Keep up the great columns

James Tyrrell

Hi Len,
Thanks for the comments.
Hmm would have been interesting to see what happened should the cubs have been in the open. Instinct is a hard thing for leopards to override though…

Gillian Evans

Phew! So pleased the cubs survived this close encounter ! Truly awesome photos of the unknown male on the rocks!

James Tyrrell

Hi Gillian, we were pretty thrilled when they were discovered still alive, believe me!

Malavika Gupta

So happy your story, so far, has ended well. Do keep us posted on the cubs. Since you spotted a new leopard, I am curious to know how long before you give identifying names to leopard cubs? This new male I’m sure you’ll name if he’s seen on a regular basis. Thanks.

James Tyrrell

Malavika we generally wait until they are territorial and established in an area, the length of time of which can vary significantly…

Nadine Andujar

That’s the Little Chief Hosana. He’s a 2 year old leopard. He’s very curious about everything. He was born in Djuma a very loved and well know in Safari Live. We miss seeing him. I’m so glad he’s doing good.

James Tyrrell

Thank you for the comments everyone, and especially thank you for the ID of the Hosana male.
We’ll be sure to recognise him from now on!

Judy Hayden

James, you keep me on the edge of my seat. I could not imagine watching those babies getting killed. I am just so happy they were seen later. Is Hosana as big as Anderson and does Anderson know that he is there? I hate to see either injured because Hosana has decided to venture to new lands.

James Tyrrell

Hi Judy; Hosana is half the size as the Anderson male! I think he can count himself very fortunate that the Anderson male didn’t find him that day…

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