Amidst growing concerns within the Ranger and Tracker team, the Tamboti female leopard has hardly been seen over the last week.
The last confirmed sighting of her revealed that she had sustained bad injuries to her flanks and back legs. The cause was almost certainly lions.
About a week went past before the next possible sighting of her, when she was found in long grass where the extent of her injuries could not be established, and she was beyond the usually accepted southern boundary of her territory. It looked like her, but in the thicket, this could not be confirmed 100%.
Ranger Guy Brunskill had previously seen her limping badly, clearly struggling with her wounds.
The Tamboti female inhabits the south-eastern sections of Londolozi, having a large part of her territory along the Maxabene Riverbed.
Before a general consternation gets properly fired up, let’s just remember how resilient big cats are. The Ndzanzeni female made a full recovery from what looked like a potentially mortal injury to her back left leg, in so doing giving a chance for the Mother Leopard lineage to be continued. The Dudley Riverbank 3:3 young male from 2009 survived a similar injury, and in the lion world, two different Tsalala lionesses survived brutal hyena attacks in which they lost their tails.
This female is a success story all in herself, being born as a single cub to the Dudley Riverbank female in early 2012.
As long as they have food to sustain them – whatever form it comes in – their bodies are able to heal themselves and without any outside intervention they are able to recover from what to us may appear grievous harm. Within reason though. They can’t regenerate limbs or anything like that, but injuries that would soon prove fatal to less hardy creatures often heal quite quickly in many of the big cats.
Our worry with the Tamboti female is just how much of an overlap her injured state appeared to have with the interloping of the Mashaba female into her territory. Venturing significantly further south than she’s ever normally seen, and actively scent-marking in the areas in which the Tamboti female usually frequents, the Mashaba female’s movements make us worry that the Tamboti female may even have succumbed to her wounds and passed away. A sighting this morning of a female leopard in long grass appeared to be her (Tamboti female), but we will attempt to confirm this afternoon.
A leopard whose movements are slowed down by damage sustained to its legs will not be able to patrol its territory as fast or as far, and it is certainly possible that in simply keeping a low profile, giving herself time to heal, the Tamboti female has let her scent fade along her usually patrol routes, giving the Mashaba female reason to believe that the territory is no longer occupied.
These females have encountered each other along the edge of their respective territories before. Take a look at this video from 2013:
Leopards are conflict-averse animals. Without the opportunity or a specific need to expand territory, they are unlikely to transgress established territorial boundaries. The two females in question are long-standing residents, so there must have been a dramatic shift in the status quo for the Mashaba female to be drawn into hitherto unexplored areas, and it is almost certainly the lack of patrolling by the Tamboti female.
It’s easy to jump to conclusions out here; as soon as we see behaviour deviating from the norm we reach for the most dramatic explanation, or foresee catastrophe for the individual(s) involved.
In this case, I’m hoping that it is simply a case of the Tamboti female taking an injury-induced hiatus from her regular movements, but once she has recovered (hopefully), things will return to normal.