Lucien Beaumont found a female leopard early in the morning as the mist was still enveloping the river valleys, still filtering up onto the crests, still covering Londolozi in an eerie grey blanket.
Lucien and I were driving a photographic group together and our two vehicles were on the lookout for leopard that morning, so we immediately headed for the scene.
Lucien, or Goose as he is known to the ranging team, came on the radio again. “Another update, the Marthly male is also in this position.”
Two leopards! Now we were really excited, and I pushed my foot down just a little bit harder on the accelerator.
Another update: “The female leopard is unidentified at present.” At first we assumed that the view was poor and the others hadn’t been able to get a good visual of the leopardess, but as we arrived at the sighting, it was our turn to be confused, as the female was a leopard that neither I nor tracker Mike Sithole had ever seen before.
It was the Xidulu female (aka the Kikilezi female), who had not been seen on Londolozi for a number of years. Her rich golden coat was a telltale sign of her being a part of the Sunset Bend female lineage, in which she is in esteemed company, alongside the Vomba, Tutlwa, Mashaba and Tamboti females, to name but a few.
The daughter of Sunsetbend female, is named Xidulu which means termite mound in Shangaan.
It was wonderful to see (what was for me) a new leopard, but far more exciting was seeing the interaction between her and the Marthly male. He was intent on one thing; warthogs! Watching a hole in the side of a termite mound (which is a Xidulu in the Shangaan language), he seemed quite content to sit and wait for the warthog(s) to emerge, but his plans were continuously thwarted by the advances of the female leopard, who was far more interested in mating than in feeding. Moving around in the grass on front of the warthog burrow, sniffing the burrow itself and even climbing up onto the mound, she effectively ruined any chance of secrecy.
This male moved in from the north of the reserve in 2010, and was instantly recognisable by his unique tuft of fur at the back of his neck.
After many advances by her, which for the first hour of the sighting were aggressively repulsed by the Marthly male, he eventually mated with her a number of times in short succession.
Reports from east of our boundary are that the Xidulu female has been raising a litter of cubs, most likely fathered by the 5:5 male. However, territorial disputes between the Marthly and 5:5 males have raised fears that the Marthly male may have killed these youngsters. It certainly did not look as if the female had recently been nursing cubs.
Indeed, after the sighting we had of the pair, they could be heard mating in the river in front of camp for the next 24 hours, and earlier today were found still together on the Northern bank of the Sand River. A few days is a long time for a female to leave little cubs unattended, and this is further evidence that points to the loss of the litter.
It remains to be seen if the Xidulu female will return to her territory in the East or slowly push back onto Londolozi as the Tamboti female has done. Maybe this recent bout of mating will result in the birth of a new litter, which this time may successfully be raised to maturity…
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell