Seeing a leopard is an incredibly special event in the bush considering the secretive nature of this big cat. Seeing a female leopard with her cub playing together, drinking and marking her territory would be labeled a rare sighting but to spend a morning with these two playful females and have the father of the cub spending time with them pushing the numbers up to three is almost unheard of!
Having said that, we have recently been seeing a certain three leopards together more and more. The Tamboti female and her cub have been providing some great viewing, as they always have, and the Camp Pan male has been the third leopard to join them. Don’t believe me…just take a look at this astonishing footage captured a few days ago:
There are one or two different ideas as to why they are spending this time together. The one I believe is the most likely at the moment, is what drives everything out here, the will to mate and to ensure the passing on of genes. The Tamboti female’s cub, a female that has just passed one year of age, has been seen making kills of her own and is growing in confidence day after day. Confidence and the basic skill of catching her own food are all very necessary tools for her survival as an independent leopard. Female leopards’ force their cubs into independence at different ages, some as early as nine months old and some a little longer (up to about 36 months). I feel sooner rather than later this young female will find herself out there to face the challenges the bush has to offer a solitary animal. Once this has taken place it would free her mother up to have another litter of cubs.
All of the extra interest from the Camp Pan male is in anticipation of her coming back into estrous. He was seen performing the Flehmen grimace and testing the Tamboti female’s urine on multiple occasions. Should the tamboti young female leave her mother and begin moving around the south eastern reaches of Londolozi, there could be the potential mating between Camp Pan male and the Tamboti female.
All the speculation aside the time I spent with these three striking cats was some of the most incredible leopard viewing I have ever had. The tolerance of the Camp Pan male of the playful cub was something I did not expect, he dwarfs the young female but was very controlled in how he handled her. As you would have seen in the above video, the young cubs boisterous stalking and pouncing did little to bother the Camp Pan male, who only offered a half-hearted snarl. The Tamboti female on the other hand had very little time for the male’s advances and let him know in no uncertain terms when he was pushing his luck.
I’m very interested to see if we will have the fortunate opportunity to witness more of this ‘family’ unit together, owing to the current dynamics. The Camp Pan male, although getting on in age, is still a hugely dominant force in the south eastern regions of Londolozi and as such will be keeping a careful watch on the progression of this cub and the Tamboti female. Have you ever witnessed three leopards together in the same sighting? I would love to hear your stories, let me know in the comment section below…
Written by: Simon Smit
Photographed by: Simon Smit and Lucien Beaumont
Filmed by: John Varty