Just over two years ago we ran a post on the Sunset Bend female lineage. A beautiful leopard with a rich golden coat, the Sunset Bend Female was one of the iconic leopards of Londolozi in years gone by, and many of her progeny are still around, occupying territories all around the reserve.
Two young leopards in particular, neither quite old enough to properly establish and defend their own territories, are nevertheless holding their own in a corner of Londolozi, and delighting guests and rangers alike with their high-spirited antics. The leopards I am referring to are the Tamboti Young female and Mashaba Young female, the grand and great-granddaughters of the Sunset Bend female respectively. These two young leopards, both independent, have found themselves boxed in between their mothers to the west and south, and the Sand River to the north and east. Both are thriving, both are hunting successfully, yet both are coexisting in the same small area.
The Mashaba Young female is the older of the two, being born in August 2012, while the Tamboti Young female was born in early 2013. Female leopards will often, upon gaining independence, establish themselves in territories adjacent to their mothers. Should the mother produce multiple female offspring and should they survive, a situation would likely develop whereby the mother’s territory shrinks and shrinks as she approaches old age and partitions off corners of her territory to her daughters, with the territory eventually being filled in by these female offspring once she dies. Male leopards do not compete with female leopards for territory, it is only female on female and male on male.
The above map shows the area in which the Mashaba and Tamboti young females have been viewed over the last couple of months (red section). They have been seen in close proximity to each other, although so far no aggressive interaction has been recorded. Too be fair, although significant overlap has been recorded in their areas of movement, the Tamboti Young Female has generally kept to the southern parts of the red area, while the Mashaba Young Female has been staying in the northern section.
What could complicate the issue for us is the the fact that the two leopards, being of a similar age, could potentially be confused with each other. The two leopards are not too different in size, and in order to tell them apart it is often necessary to refer to their spot patterns. Have a look at the two photos below:
The photo of the Tamboti Young Female was from just under a year ago so it is not a true reflection of her current size. What these photos do show, however, is the spot patterns of the two leopard that we can use to easily tell them apart. If you look just behind the nose of the Tamboti Young Female you will see a collection of five small spots above her top whisker line (it looks like six but one of the spots is caused by a fold in her skin). The Mashaba Young Female only has two spots in this area. Mix-ups have definitely occurred in the past, but sticking to the spot pattern formula makes it hard to go wrong.
The question we are asking is which of the two leopards will be the one who stays?
It is highly improbably that the state of co-existence can continue. The area is just too small for two females who will both be looking to mate within the next two years and one of them will certainly have to move.
Will the six month advantage in age that the Mashaba Young female has be enough to give her the edge over the Tamboti Young female? Although I have observed the Mashaba Young Female scent-marking, I have yet to hear her give a territorial call, whereas I have observed this behaviour in the Tamboti Young Female. Either that or she was already looking for a male (unlikely at her age). Either way, both females have displayed territorial behaviour usually only seen in older animals.
Which leopard do you think will will emerge to dominate the area of eastern Londolozi, along the prime territory of the Sand River?
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell.