For those who find interest in the leopards of Londolozi and particularly cast the net backward through the generations a wonder and fascination starts to form around the female lineages of the past. Recorded observations and detailed sightings reports which spread across decades have allowed for very accurate ‘family tree’-type formations to develop, which proudly continue today.
Of course, as big cats move around throughout their lives, they come and go- some never to be seen nearby again as they set up territory of their own elsewhere. This is healthy for genetic variation. However, there are instances where, a generation or two down the line, an individual starts spending time on Londolozi who we have not seen before, only to later trace them back to a previously known resident and in a long-standing lineage. This was the case last year with the arrival of the Piva male extending his independence northward and initiating his dominance into central Londolozi. At first, the young male was unfamiliar until closer inspection revealed he was the cub of the great Piva female who long reigned the southern portion of the property and was a descendant of the 3:4 female of the 1990’s. His arrival into power seemed a well-scripted tale of royalty, evidently praised and appreciated by long standing rangers and trackers who had followed the majority of his mother’s life.
Another one of these beautiful realisations took place a few weeks ago, although we can only hope it was not just a single occasion. A petite and pretty young female leopard was present for only a few days along our eastern boundary, and the few times she was spotted raised the question of who she could be. Although clearly young, she portrays a playful confidence as she is most likely just starting to push the parameters of her mother’s territory in the attempt to learn independence.
Her presence was thoroughly enjoyed for the week but she has seldom been seen since as she seems to spend most of her time across the boundary with her mother. Nonetheless, a confirmed identity has emerged which has again pleased many of the senior rangers and trackers; she is one of the two surviving cubs of the Xidulu female.
The famed Xidulu female is about to turn fourteen years old but is not as often seen on Londolozi as she used to be during the majority of the last ten years. In fact, 2012 and the start of 2013 saw no signs of her at all as she was pushed east away from where she had been since her birth in late 2001. Her surprising but welcomed return in August 2013, following the loss of a litter, saw her immediately mating with the then dominant Marthly male as well as the Dudley Riverbank 5:5 male further to the south-east. She subsequently denned east of our boundary, once again, and it now comes to light that she has successfully raised two female cubs nearby, where she has remained since. Although both Marthly and Dudley Riverbank males assume paternity, it is only the latter who continues to interact with her and her litter as his territory encompasses hers.
Importantly, the Xidulu female’s lineage is that of the golden coated Sunset Bend female’s, therefore she shares a mother with the great Tamboti, Tutlwa and Mashaba females, as well as the late Vomba female. It doesn’t take too much of a genetic analysis to agree that all of the above have been, or still are, not only stunning leopards to look at but powerful and successfully dominant females of some of the most sought after territories in the area.
Although we don’t see her anymore, the Xidulu female is part of a greater era of leopards at Londolozi and will hopefully leave behind a legacy. The appearance of one of her female cubs onto the property illustrates its ongoing progress to independence thus far, and although both young females still return to their mother to feed, their exploration outward and slow change to full independence may lend them to venture back on to Londolozi more frequently.
Typically, a dominant female leopard cedes a small potion of her territory to her daughters upon their independence; a sort-of free home range from which to start building their own territory. Will we see one of the two Xidulu young females (one with a 3:3 and the other with a 2:2 spot pattern) begin claiming territory along our eastern areas sometime soon? As they are approaching only two years of age, this may only happen in a year’s time.
Or will it even happen at all? That area may already be claimed by the more experienced Mashaba young female and Tamboti young female, both with a head start and the same powerful history.
Whatever the outcome, we are anxiously awaiting our next view of either one of the gorgeous Xidulu young females as they grow into their regal coats; coats which shimmer with a Sunset Bend gold.
Written by Sean Cresswell.
Photographed by Sean Cresswell and James Tyrrell, Londolozi Rangers.