The Londolozi trackers are good. Bottom line. With enough time, they will find almost anything. Mike Sithole made a wonderful discovery recently while tracking the Nyelethi Young female leopard near the Manyelethi River in Londolozi’s northern reaches.
The Nyelethi young female (now renamed the Nanga female) has fallen off the radar a bit in the last year or so. Born in 2009 as part of a litter of three, she spent her early years in and around the Manyelethi river, venturing southwards with her independence, often being found near Marthly Pools. In early 2011 her mother disappeared, reportedly killed by another leopard North of our boundary, and with her went the umbrella of relative safety and protection that her daughter had so enjoyed. The young female was still too small to claim her mother’s territory, and under increasing pressure from the Ximpalapala female in the west and the Tutlwa female in the South, she began moving north and east, out of the areas that we traditionally used to find her. These days she is to be found in the beautiful Leadwood forests of Makomsava or amongst the gravelly slopes of Manyelethi East, not often seen, but leaving her tracks in the sand as evidence of her passing.
She recently came into the limelight for the first time in a while, being found by Renias Mhlongo and the tracking team, mating on the Northern boundary with the Gowrie male leopard.
We were hoping that this mating would bear fruit, so imagine our excitement when a couple of weeks ago she was found in the Manyelethi riverbed with clear evidence of suckle-marks around her teats. A day or two later, tracker Mike Sithole and ex-head ranger Oliver Sinclair were in the same area and found fresh tracks of a female leopard. After a brief search, they found her and were able to confirm that she was definitely lactating. They followed her for a while and eventually left her lying near the riverbed, determined to return in the afternoon.
Coming back a few hours later, Mike was on the trail again, following her tracks from where they had last left her. Working past a hard, gravelly section where no clear tracks were visible, Mike suddenly heard francolins alarm-calling from the bushes ahead of him and immediately went on the alert. Stalking quietly forward, he approached a large Jackalberry tree with a cluster of rocks around the base, and knowing what a great spot this would make for a leopard to stash her cubs, closely scrutinized the boulders.
A pair of ears sticking up above a big flat rock gave away the position of the female, and to Mike’s delight, two little bundles of fur tumbled down the slope towards a small Jackalberry tree.
Calling Oliver in with the vehicle, they watched and waited in silence, until the tiny cubs (estimated at no more than 3 weeks old) once more emerged to play with their mother.
Keeping some distance when viewing cubs at an early age is crucial to ensure their gradual habituation to the vehicles. Under 6 months of age it is our policy only to view them when the mother is present as they gain confidence from her being there.
That was a few weeks ago and the first time the cubs were seen at their den. They are slightly older and more mobile now, and we believe that the mother has moved the densite.
Soon they will be going to kills with her and getting their first taste of meat, and finding them will prove tricky in the densely vegetated northern regions.
Another wonderful circle has been completed here, as another young female of the Leopards of Londolozi has been raised successfully and matured enough to give birth to a litter of her own.
Take a look at some of this older footage that documents the Nanga female’s growth and development:
The first time we saw her feeding with her mother:
At 7 Months of age, the young female and her brothers are well on the way to independence, and are filmed grooming and playing with their mother near the Manyelethi riverbed:
Here, the inexperience of the young female, now well on her way to independence, results in her dropping a kill, which was promptly stolen by a male leopard who was on the prowl in the vicinity:
And finally, footage take by recent Londolozi guest Daniel Malan of the cubs themselves clambering over the mother and nursing. Ranger Mark Nisbet was driving near the densite when coming round a corner in the road they bumped into the mother walking straight towards them. Following her through the bushes to the rocky outcrop where she had stashed the cubs, they were on hand to witness the moment that the mother called them out of hiding, and enjoyed an amazing two hours in her presence.
We look forward to following the fortunes of these two latest editions to the Leopards of Londolozi.
Photographed by Oliver Sinclair and Daniel Malan (Londolozi Guest)
Filmed by: Daniel Malan (Londolozi Guest)
Written by James Tyrrell