With the disappearance of the Maxabene female late last year, her territory came up for grabs. A recent interaction between two of Londolozi’s better known leopardesses resulted in the loss of a kill for one and the gaining of a free meal for the other, right on what we believe to be the new territorial boundary between the two cats, a split down the middle of the Maxabene female’s old territory.
Both the Tamboti and Mashaba female leopards have cubs at the moment. The Mashaba female’s single cub is the sole survivor of a litter of two and is now roughly 8 months old. The Tamboti female recently gave birth to two cubs of unknown sex, and sightings of the youngsters have been fleeting, but we believe they are being kept in the Inyathini drainage line, and as ranger Warren Pearson had a brief glimpse of the two on foot a few days ago, it seems they are both alive and well.
The point is that both the Tamboti and Mashaba female leopards are not only hunting for themselves. Both are providing food for cubs, and any failure to provide could result in the death of their youngsters.
The Tamboti female was recently found on the remains of an impala kill near the Old Dam drainage line. Initially stashing it in a thicket of gwarrie bushes as it was too heavy to hoist, she had eventually eaten enough of the carcass to lighten it to a weight more easily taken out of reach of marauding hyenas.
Heading out on afternoon drive, we made our way straight to where the carcass was hidden. It was an overcast, windy afternoon. The wind would spread the scent of the meat, attracting any other predators that may have been in the vicinity.
Very soon after we arrived – hardly able to make out the leopard in the dense bushes – she decided that the day was getting on, and with darkness approaching, it wasn’t long before lions and hyenas would be on the prowl. It was time to get the kill to safety.
The best tree in the vicinity was a nearby Jackalberry, a particular tree in which I have seen both the Mashaba and Camp Pan leopards with kills in before. The lack of thorns and dense foliage of the tree were both attractive qualities for the leopard.
After dragging the carcass approximately 100m, pausing at the base of the tree and scoping out the easiest route up, the Tamboti female picked up the kill again and attempted her first hoist. It seems she underestimated the angle of the tree and she fell back to the ground. Walking a circuit around the trunk, she decided that her initial approach was probably the best and attempted a second hoist, which was again unsuccessful.
Dragging a carcass up a tree requires energy, and after two attempts, the leopard decided to pause to regain her breath, so she moved to a nearby rainwater pan for a drink and to groom herself.
Unbeknownst to her, another leopard was approaching.
Ranger Alfie Mathebula was on his way to the scene, but the pan that the Tamboti female was now reclining next to was hidden from the road, and by the time we heard the noise of his engine, he had already gone past us. To our surprise, he radioed us from only about 80m away, slightly confused, saying that he had found the leopard, but he couldn’t see our vehicles. For a moment we were also confused, as we were still right next to the Tamboti female, until we realised that a second leopard was on site.
The Mashaba female, who Alfie had found, was downwind of the carcass and had obviously picked up its scent and was now on her way to investigate.
For some reason, sensing the presence of Mashaba, the Tamboti female moved off, choosing not to head back to the kill to defend it, disappearing instead into the thickets as the Mashaba female approached. The Tamboti female is a number of years older than the Mashaba female, and their respective ages should have meant an advantage to the Tamboti female should it come to a fight.
Perhaps, being full from already having fed that day, the Tamboti female felt it prudent to return to her cubs, abandoning the carcass that she had failed to hoist.
Leopards seldom enter into deliberate conflict. Their solitary nature means that any injury could prove fatal if it impacts their hunting ability.
In any event, after sniffing around for some 15 minutes and confident that the Tamboti female had left the scene, the Mashaba female managed to locate the impala carcass and immediately set about relocating it before feeding. She nervously glanced round while she ate, watching for danger, but she remained uninterrupted.
Had the Tamboti female been successful in hoisting the kill, she may have had a far better position from which to defend it. Who knows? The Mashaba female was certainly the lucky one in this encounter.
Written and filmed by James Tyrrell