One of the more prominent leopards on Londolozi over the last year has been the Mashaba young female. Prominent not so much from a dominance standpoint but more from sheer viewing pleasure. Her youthful charisma has delighted guests, rangers and trackers alike. Slowly but surely though, youthful exuberance has faded and a more calculated side has begun to shine through. One so true to all leopards, a side that allows them to remain the mysterious ghosts of the Lowveld and completely dominate the shadows. These recent developments have prompted a coming of age, possibly only through our eyes but worthy of recognition nonetheless. The changing of her name, The Nkoveni female.
A name change, as discussed on the blog before, is not something affectionate but more a point of reference, a prominent feature within a certain leopard’s territory. There were a few names thrown around amongst the rangers and trackers but the Nkoveni female was decided upon. “Nkoveni” in the local Shangaan language means ‘at the river’ and her fondness of the river cannot be denied. The abundance of prey taking refuge in the thickets allows countless hunting opportunities. This is not the first time a leopard at Londolozi has been named after one of the largest rivers in the region. Some early visitors and past guides may remember the old Sand River female, born to the Mother Leopard and viewed in the mid 80s.
Viewing of the current Nkoveni female is usually good if she is not sliding through the shadows created by the palms that line the banks of the river. She was in fact the first leopard I saw at Londolozi. A hot summer’s afternoon led us into a drainage line not far from camp. We rounded a corner and saw her drinking from a small pool of water. She lifted her head, water dripping slowly off her hair-covered chin, and pointed her ears to the top of the donga. We eventually caught up to her on the banks of the drainage line and found her frozen staring into the grass. A squeal, a leap and the grass all around us erupted into chaos. At ground level an entire colony of banded mongoose exploded in different directions. The leopard’s movements were so fluid it almost looked as if she was moving in slow motion, but as she came to a standstill, she looked at us as if seeking recognition, and in her jaws was clamped the inert body of a mongoose. She settled down to consume her meal with the sound of the shrilly squealing mongoose troop emanating from the bushes all around her..
That sighting will be etched in my mind for the rest of my days. That was almost two years ago and she has matured a considerable amount since. Now, not only hunting consumes her time but the instinctive urge to mate has forced her to make contact with the dominant male in the area. The 4:4 male and the Nkoveni female have been seen together on multiple occasions, each meeting lasting a few days at a time. She has been very persistent, sometimes maybe a little too much so. For her efforts she now has a prominent notch in each ear, more than likely inflicted by the 4:4 male in one of many mating bouts. Her initial advances towards the 4:4 male were met with vehement rejection; most likely the male sensed that she was too young to reproduce. However, over the months his attitude towards her has relaxed and he has been far more receptive. Proper mating bouts have been witnessed.
The debate is whether or not the female is too young to reproduce or not. Leopards have been recorded birthing at around three years of age, although it is typically after they are four years old that they will have their first litter. The Nkoveni Female was three years old as of the end of August, so it is theoretically possible for her to fall pregnant.
Reaching the age of three she has come a long way since August 2012. She was born in the Sand River close to Plaque Rock, about two kilometres downstream from the Londolozi Camps. Daughter of the Mashaba female and fathered by, we believe, the Marthly male. Both of these extremely relaxed leopards have more than likely led to her amazing temperament. One which affords us the calibre of sighting we have been accustomed to while in the presence of this energetic individual. I look forward to following her progress and development for years to come. Long may she thrive in this piece of African paradise.
Written and photographed by Simon Smit (Londolozi Ranger)