Success can mean many things. A happy life, wealth, a big house, a Ferrari, or maybe simply being able to afford a loaf bread at the end of the week. Depending on where you live or what your background is, measurements of success can vary enormously.
In nature, success means one thing: Reproduction. If you are not able to procure a mate and survive long enough to have offspring, your existence has been, well, pointless…!
This is most certainly the case with the Leopards of Londolozi. Successful big males sire multiple offspring. Successful females raise cubs to independence. Particularly successful leopards have their genes passed on through multiple generations.
Along the Sand River, the lifeblood of the Sabi Sand Reserve and the heart of Londolozi Game Reserve, the bloodline of one particular female leopard has risen to prominence in recent years.
The Sand River is prime territory for leopards, with its access to water, numerous thickets for concealment and an abundant supply of game, and the lineage of the Sunset Bend female is currently firmly in control of a large section of this valuable river frontage.
Running from west to east across Londolozi, the Tutlwa, Vomba, Mashaba and Xidulu females reign supreme over their much-coveted Sand River. The Tamboti female holds territory further east, also on the river, and is regularly seen within Londolozi’s borders. All are beautiful leopards with rich golden coats. All are related. All are part of the Sunset Bend bloodline.
Sunset bend was famous for her rich golden coat. Her offspring, and her offspring’s offspring also display this beautiful trait. With the exception of the Tamboti female, all the above-mentioned leopardesses currently have cubs. Vomba has 1, a male. Mashaba is still caring for a single cub from an original litter of at least 2. After the recent post by Adam Bannister announcing the Tutlwa female’s pregnancy, a tiny litter of 3 was discovered in the Manyelethi riverbed, although we believe she has since moved den-sites. As well as this, her previous litter of 2 (now aged almost 2yrs), are both now independent. The Xidulu female we believe is still caring for a single cub slightly east of our boundary.
The bloodline of the original Mother Leopard of Londolozi has relatively few individuals that we still view regularly. The Nottens and Dudley Riverbank females are still around, but a number of their recent offspring are males who have either dispersed or are currently dispersing. Nottens and DRB inhabit the southern sections of the reserve, and sightings of both are relatively infrequent. Nottens is turning 18 this year and will most likely not be alive much longer. Dudley Riverbank is about to turn 15 and is still rearing what will most likely be her last cub.
Is this a turning point in the dominant genes of the leopards of Londolozi? Maybe.
What is not answered for sure is the question of Sunset Bend’s mother. It has long been claimed that she was the daughter of the Tugwaan female and possibly even the sister of the legendary 3:4 female, but this is not 100% established and there are a few who disagree.
If Sunset Bend was indeed the Tugwaan female’s daughter, she was also then the granddaughter of the original Mother Leopard, and her genes – and as such the genes of the leopard that launched Londolozi into the world-famous relationship it enjoys with leopards – are stronger today than they ever have been…
Written and photographed by James Tyrrell