Many guests’ initial leopard requests are for the large, regal males such as the likes of the Camp Pan male, who have dominated this area for years. It is little wonder as males are impressive in size and presence, however today we would like to share with you a few of the reasons why we think it is in fact the female leopard that is the most resilient and hardcore of all.
Size to Strength:
Female leopards are half the size of a male and yet are equally as successful hunters, managing to take down prey larger than themselves, and then having the strength to drag and hoist the carcass up into a tree. Imagine gripping something equal to your own bodyweight in your mouth and climbing a tree on your finger and toenails alone, while all the time making it look like the easiest maneuver in the world. Females are probably forced to be more successful than male leopards, as males often rely on their bulk and brawn to steal kills from smaller individuals.
Beauty and Grace:
On top of their strength and tenacity, they have the most incredible grace. Even in their clumsiest moments, they manage to maintain composure. Watch this incredible footage of the Nanga female as she acrobatically descends a tree with her carcass in tow.
We find it mind-blowing how much effort female leopards put into mothering their cubs. Before the youngsters are even conceived, she goes out of her way to protect them by risking injury and moving into other females’ territories to seek out potential males. She does this so that every male who encounters her cubs will believe he is the father, and therefore not harm them. She picks out the safest location possible as a den site, puts in huge energy to hunt for herself and potentially three others, she moves them to safer den sites as the cubs grow, she protects them when other predators loom, and huge care is given to grooming and playing with her youngsters.
Like all the animals out here, the leopard is no different in its resilience. It amazes us what injuries they are able to bounce back from. A while ago, rangers were desperately concerned when the Nanga female had a problem with her front paw. She was putting no pressure on the foot and there was huge worry that she would not be able to hunt. Despite this injury, we still found signs of where she had hunted and even hoisted a kill into a tree. With no help from the outside, she was able to take perfect care of herself: resting when needed and taking hunting opportunities at tactical times. She knew herself well enough to give her body the chance to heal in a timeframe that she knew she could handle.
This is the ultimate in dealing with the hardships that life throws. Motherhood is difficult for female leopards and cub mortality is high. What is always so inspiring to witness is the incredible manner in which these mothers move on from the tragedy of losing a cub. It is easy for us to anthropomorphise events like this, but in reality what can be learned from these incredible creatures is a humble acceptance of what is. They exist purely in the current moment and once that moment passes, they move onto and accept the next. This is not to undermine tragedy and loss in our human world, but rather to take solace in nature’s incredible resilience.
Strength, beauty, grace, dexterity, motherhood, hunting prowess and resilience – what is it that you think makes the female leopard such an impressive African animal?
Written by Amy Attenborough and Andrea Campbell, Londolozi Ranging Team
Video by Amy Attenborough