For those who follow the lives of the Leopards of Londolozi via our social media platforms, certain individuals’ names will feature prominently on your radar. The Tamboti, Mashaba and Nanga females, and the Piva and Inyathini males. There are a number of other leopards, however, who tend to slip under the radar here, not being viewed as often, and leading lives not as well documented.
We posted recently how the Ndzanzeni female is believed to be secreting cubs somewhere in the southern sections of the property, but we are yet to discover the whereabouts of the densite.
Another female, also known for her secretive nature, has a litter stashed somewhere to the west of camp, but much like the Ndzanzeni female’s cubs, these too have yet too be viewed by human eyes.
The leopard in this case is the Nhlanguleni female, daughter of the Tutlwa female, and a leopard that seems to be sharing a lot of behavioural traits with her mother.
The Tutlwa female is a very hit-or-miss leopard that lives on the northern side of the Sand River. Weeks will go by without a sighting of her, then she will surface for a few days of incredible viewing, and then she’s gone again. We are not helped by the fact that a lot of her territory lies in the rocky sections of the Sand River to the west of camp where vehicle access is difficult, and with the short grass of this dry spell resulting in poor hunting on the crests, she has been forced to focus her movements in the drainage lines where adequate cover is to be found.
It has been well documented that female leopards will cede territory to their female offspring, and we have seen this taking place with the Vomba and Mashaba females in recent years. It seems the Tutlwa female has followed suit, ceding off the south-western corner of her territory to her daughter the Nhlanguleni female. It is this area (see map below) that we believe the Nhlanguleni female to be stashing her cubs.
The Nhlanguleni female was not a relaxed leopard when she was growing up. Being raised by the Tutlwa female in and around the Sand River, she did not often come into contact with vehicles, and even after reaching independence continued to be furtive and difficult to track down. Even in the last six months there have been sightings of her in which she has simply refused to show her face to a following Land Rover, choosing instead to duck into drainage lines and remain in cover.
A week or so ago we found her on a territorial patrol, fortunately very relaxed, and were lucky enough to film her catching a warthog piglet in slow-motion. Our observations of her in this sighting revealed that she was indeed still nursing cubs. Our suspicions have always been that she is denning in the river, where innumerable boulder clusters and piles of flood-debris provide perfect den-sites, but it wasn’t until this morning that we confirmed that.
She was discovered by tracker Euce Madonsela and ranger Werner Breedt on an impala kill late yesterday afternoon, and Amy Attenborough, Shaun D’Araujo and I were back in position at first light with the intention of waiting with her for as long as it took for her to return to her cubs, wherever they may be. As we approached the carcass (hoisted in a Schotia tree) we saw what we thought was the Nhlanguleni female, high up in the branches. The we noticed a second leopard, gnawing on a bone at the base of the tree. This turned out to be the Nhlanguleni female, whereas the leopard in the tree was the 4:4 male, who had robbed the female of her kill during the night.
After waiting for about 30 minutes, the female realized she was not going to get any more meat with the male around, and began walking north. Bypassing a small pool of water (leopards will often drink immediately upon finishing a meal), she continued walking steadily towards the Sand River, further increasing our hope that she was heading towards a den. It seems that is exactly where she headed, but we were unable to follow in a vehicle, as she leaped across a deep channel in the river and continued into a rocky area on the far side.
Head tracker Richard Siwela is heading into the area in a few hours to see if he can find the den. There is always the chance that she continued moving through the river and crossed north onto the far bank, but that is what Richard will hopefully be able to shed some light on by this evening…