There’s something special about the younger class of female leopards in the wild.
Sure, any leopard is a pleasure enough to view, and this is not to say that adults are ever unexciting to watch, but the younger cats are expectedly more energetic… and often clumsy! Beyond the joyful aesthetics of them fumbling around and chasing mother’s tail, we begin to spiral down into their stories; along the stepping stones of their growth and the development of unique character. This is where it is the younger females who seem to steal our hearts as they overcome their dependant bonds and slowly break into the surrounding chaos of life in the bush as individuals.
Being privileged enough to be witnessing the steady growth of the Mashaba female’s one surviving cub, most of us have been reminded of the challenges the now 7-month-old female will one day face. Due to an incredibly high mortality rate for leopard cubs in the wild, one can only begin to imagine the toughness and resilience held by each adult leopard we encounter; they are the best of the best, as only the strongest (with a not inconsiderable amount of luck) have survived. I take solace in the story of the Tamboti young female, who was raised under similar circumstances and who is one of the more regularly encountered Londolozi leopards these days, as a fully independent young female who may be looking to become territorial sometime soon.
This granddaughter of the Sunset Bend female boasts the famous golden coat of the lineage with an added bright pink nose and curious green eyes. Born in January of 2013, she is soon to be 3 years of age and thus may soon be showing signs of territorial behaviour. For the time being, though, she explores an incredibly large home range; being seen north of the Sand River, all the way down into the deep south, as well as venturing across the Londolozi boundaries. During late winter she was wandering the far south-west open areas and saw an Ostrich for what we believe was the first time in her life (which sent her fleeing through the pale grass at near Cheetah speed!). The extent of her range does not indicate any territorial movements yet, as she seems to be testing the areas beyond where she grew up with her mother.
Not only for exploration is the young female covering ground, but recently her behaviour has suggested she may be seeking out a male. At 3 years of age it is unlikely she could conceive, however, many female leopards have been observed mating at this young age. Perhaps it will acquaint her with the newer males in the surrounding areas, which could be the catalyst that sees her choosing a relatively vacant area and attempting to carve out her own territory. This is a somewhat slow process but we should start seeing signs of it in the next year.
On the subject of male leopards in the area, take a look at this incredible clip of the Tamboti young female knocking the much bigger Piva male flying from the boughs of a tree:
Her progress over the last 18 months has been a pleasure to follow, though she still has mountains to climb. Without ignoring this interesting time in her life, it is comforting to look towards the Mashaba female and her little female cub and know that 2 years ago it was the Tamboti young female in the same situation. Both her and the Mashaba female’s cub lost their only siblings (both males) before they were six months old, and so the Tamboti young female’s successful reaching of independence give us hope for the cub.
The Tamboti young female, it seems, has many pathways to choose from, and could attempt to localise into any one of several areas anytime soon. As she rapidly approaches full maturity, not only does she keep us guessing as to her whereabouts on any given day, often making us speculate wildly as to exactly what she is doing there if we do find her, but she gives us optimism for a little female cub growing up elsewhere, in a different stage of her life as a leopard.
Written and Photographed by Sean Cresswell, Londolozi Ranger.