In October of this year we wish a Happy Birthday to our oldest territorial leopard, the Nottens female.
She is turning 18 years old, no mean feat for a leopard in an area with as dense a predator population as the Sabi Sands. While her life must surely be drawing to a close, she is still being viewed regularly, looking a little worn and skinny, but hunting along the ancient riverbeds and game paths that criss-cross the reserve. I remember seeing her over a year-and-a-half ago with some guests, way down in Londolozi’s Southern reaches, and telling everyone on the vehicle that it was a real privilege to spend some time with her, as we never knew when the last time we would see her would be. Little did I know that over 18 months later, just shy of her 18th birthday, she would still be around and doing her thing as she always has.
I realise that it is still September, but we thought we’d get the birthday celebrations going early rather than potentially sending her posthumous good wishes.
The Nottens female was born in October 1995 in Schweinn Donga, a deep drainage line in the central areas of Londolozi, where her mother, the famous 3:4 female, was territorial. These days she is still found in the same area from time to time, but has been popping up in the most unlikely of places as she has aged and most likely felt some territorial pressure from other younger females. We never know where she is going to show up next, and over the last few months has been viewed from our eastern border, just south of the Sand River, right down into the reserves South West of us.
All her mating attempts over the last few years have been fruitless, and no cubs have been born to her since 2008. She has not had much success on the raising litters front, with her most successful litter being her first one, way back in 1998, with both cubs making it to independence. One of these, the Piva female, was seen on Londolozi less than 48hrs ago.
Her litters are as follows:
- 1998 – 2 Cubs – Both females reached independence
- 2001 – 2 Cubs – Both cubs lost
- 2002 – 2 Cubs – Both cubs lost
- 2003 – 2 Cubs – Uncertain if made it to independence
- 2005 – 2 Cubs – One taken by Martial Eagle
- 2008 – 2 Cubs – Both Lost
She was featured mating with the Camp Pan Male back in 2010 on the Londolozi Blog:
“an aging leopard longing only to fulfill her instinctive purpose in this wild land. Despite her age, she had to mate. Not for gratification, company or leisure, but because it was a means to an end. She had to mate so that she would attempt motherhood again. This was her purpose…” – Rich Laburn, March 2010
Attempting to mate with the Tugwaan Male a year later:
and then mating with the Camp Pan male again in 2012:
“Spending over three days together, these two leopards provided guests and rangers with some fantastic opportunities for photography and filming as they mated consistently every 6 minutes or so.” – Rich Laburn, Octobber 2012
As a female leopard ages, she will find herself losing more and more kills to other predators. Reactions times that were once almost instantaneous will be slowed somewhat, and senses will be slightly dulled with age. Eventually, after one too many kills have been robbed, the leopard’s strength will wane to the point that another predator will often move in and finish her off.
Quite possibly we will never know what becomes of the Nottens female. Weeks will go by without a sighting of her, and eventually we will just have to accept that the inevitable has happened.
She was last seen by ranger Greg Pingo in the Maxabene Riverbed a few days ago, looking relatively healthy. Tracks in the dust have been found a number of times since then, moving around the area, but she has not been seen since. I’m sure she’s fine for now, and although I haven’t seen her myself for about 6 weeks, I hope with all my heart that I can have one last sighting of her before she is gone from Londolozi forever.
Written by James Tyrrell
Photographed by: James Tyrrell, Marcus Westberg and Adam Bannister
Filmed by: Rich Laburn and Rex Miller