“I’m worried…” were the words of Richard Ferrier, when we hadn’t seen the Vomba female for a few weeks. A justified worry, as she was never seen again. And now, more than a year later, a similar worry is creeping into the ranging team about her daughter the Mashaba female.
Much like her mother, the Mashaba female operates around camp a lot of the time, and sightings of her are generally a frequent occurrence. Without a sighting for at least 10 days now, we find ourselves wondering just where she is hiding herself. While it is certainly too early to panic, there is nevertheless concern amongst the rangers and trackers as to what has happened, if anything. Tracks of a large female still criss-cross her territory, and bushbuck regularly alarm call from the river in front of camp, so we are hopeful that she is still around, but with the Tsalala Pride having spent a lot of time in the area in the last couple of weeks, there is always the chance that the worst has befallen her. If she is not seen for another 10 days to two weeks we will begin to suspect the worst, but we’ll be optimistic for now.
In other news, there have been a number of mating pairs over the last 6 weeks. The Tamboti female has been mating with the Marthly, Tu-Tones and Camp Pan males, the Tutlwa female has been seen mating with the Gowrie male, and the Ximpalapala young female (more on her later) was seen mating with the Tu-tones male. The Mashaba female and Marthly male were also seen together a couple of weeks ago, so our hope is that if she is still alive she is attempting to produce another litter.
Although not seen for a couple of weeks, the Tutlwa female’s youngsters must be approaching independence in the next few months which may have led the female to begin seeing out mating partners once more. She was seen far out of her normal territory with the Gowrie male, deep in the territory of the Nanga female. The Nanga female is younger and smaller, but with little cubs in the area she would most likely be very defensive of her territory should she encounter a rival, unrelated female.
Speaking of the Nanga female, she is approximately three and a half months in to her second attempt to get a litter through to maturity. Her first litter saw her getting a young male through to independence, although unfortunately for him that independence day came far sooner than he would have expected or liked, and he was on his own before he was even a year old, while his mother began raising a new litter of two. She has been denning them around the Southern Cross Koppies and they have started eating meat within the last month, which means they are entering a very dangerous time in their young lives, as the mother will begin leading them around territory to where she has stashed kills, exposing them to far more danger than if they were simply hiding up on a rocky outcrop.
What ranger Talley Smith calls her “favourite dysfunctional family” has been together again, with the Tu Tones and Camp Pan males both competing for mating rights with the Tamboti female. As has been seen in recent mating bouts, she far prefers the Tu Tones male these days, but the Camp Pan male has nevertheless been in attendance, clearly resentful of his son’s rise to reproductive prominence.
The Ximpalapala young female surprised us all a few weeks ago when she was found mating with the Tu Tones male near the centre of Londolozi. Although she is probably far too young to fall pregnant, she is nevertheless feeling the urge to mate, but her youth may account for the fact that the male was only half-heartedly participating, and was actually aggressive towards her at times. The pair was discovered late one evening in quite a dense thicket, and in the failing light no-one was 100% sure who the small female was, but photographic evidence and more frequent sightings of her over the last month have led us to believe that she is actively establishing territory in that area. This is great news for our leopard viewing, since after the disappearance of the Nottens’s female that South Western and central area has remained somewhat vacant. Now we have both the Nhlanguleni and Ximpalapala young females establishing themselves there.
Mating, cubs, kills in trees, and more unusual behaviour than one could fill a book with. The leopards of Londolozi continue to amaze us.
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell