The elusive life of a young male Leopard is one that intrigues me. It is a life of escapism, hostility, loneliness, suffering, triumph and eventually dominance, if all goes to plan. It is a brutal introduction into the wilds that lay beyond the safety and care of a Mother Leopard. One that forces these young males into a life filled with challenges, encounters, experiences and loss. However, this tough life is one that is experienced by each young male when they are forced out of their Natal territories, away from their mothers and eventually out of the comfort of their fathers territories, forced to fend for themselves in lands of the unknown, where new Lions, Leopards and other predators are prolific.
Earlier this year I posted a blog on the Trials and Tribulations of Leopard cubs and their hardships faced within the first few months of being alive, it focussed on the early days in a young Leopards life, eating, playing, nursing and staying alive. This blog is aimed at the later stages in their lives, the time in a Leopards life when everything around them begins to fall apart and each relationship they ever knew crumbles and disappears within a few months.
As a young male Leopard begin to grow and mature, he needs to feed more to sustain his growth and this puts much pressure on its mother, who will have to share most of her meal with her ageing cub. As theory has it, when Leopards reach an age of 18 months old their mothers being to spend less time with them and begin to push them away, a natural process whereby the, now sub-adult, needs to learn what it is like to fend for itself, live a solitary life without the safety blanket of its mother. The fact that the young male now spends less time with its mother puts it in a vulnerable position as it now will have to hunt for itself and defend its kill against the threats of Lions, Hyenas and other Leopards.
Again, as theory has it, by 22 months the sub-adult should be independent of its mother and this is where the harsh realities of life as a Leopard kick in. With no support from its mother, it is now alone, faced with the challenges of the wilderness.
From this age, a young male will lead a nomadic lifestyle, seeking refuge from other predators and avoiding conflict wherever I can. It needs to be like a ghost within territories of other Leopards, avoiding interaction and conflict as much as possible. However, such confrontations are necessary for learning and a way in which a Leopard gains experience for its future success. In its nomadic lifestyle, a young male will wonder out of its Natal territory, away from the safety of its mother and its father’s territory, and will encounter other male Leopards, dominant in their own territories. It is estimated that a young male, independent from its mother can venture up to 24km from its home territory to new areas, scouting new hunting areas and in avoidance of other predators. On average, at the age of 4 and a half years, these males, if they survive battles, hunger, conflict, Lions, and injury, they will begin to challenge for their own territory and begin to dominate land and therefore take over female Leopards and their territories. A full circle of life, cub to adult, through many testing times.
There are currently 2 young males that are being seen on Londolozi, both photographed in this post, namely the Vomba Young Male and a completely unknown young male who has been viewed for the past 10 days. A true testament to their difficult lives, these 2 have both encountered Hyena’s on several occasions, have had their meals stolen and have, in true Leopard style, had to stash their kills in large trees away from danger.
Good luck to them both in the next few years, may they prosper and fight, learn and earn the right of passage into the world of a dominant male Leopard.
Written and Photographed by: Mike Sutherland