Two years ago today, ranger Mike Sutherland introduced the latest litter of the ever-elusive Tutlwa female.
Any regular followers of the Londolozi Blog will recognize the name of the Tutlwa female, and know that she is one of the more seldom seen leopards on the property, mainly due to where her territory is situated. With the Manyelethi and Sand Rivers featuring prominently in her hunting grounds, she doesn’t have to cross many roads while on her territorial patrols, so tracking her can often be an exercise in futility.
An enigmatic female not often encountered, this leopard lives to the north of the Sand River.
As a result, litters of hers have tended to grow up relatively skittish, as seen in the Nhlanguleni female from the 2011 litter.
I digress here, in that I’m meant to be discussing the post from two years ago, and the leopards contained therein.
Sadly, like a large number of stories in the African bush, the one about those two cubs did not have a happy ending.
Around the time that Mike posted his article, the Gowrie male was pushing in from the north of the reserve, and he was seen on the open Marula crests a number of times, quite close to where the Tutlwa female was keeping her two cubs.
A few days after the two young leopards were seen together, only the male was found, and he had a serious injury to his neck. Of the young female there was no sign. Although we couldn’t see any serious external wounds on the male’s neck, he seemed to have trouble lifting his head, and it seemed more than likely that another leopard had got hold of him. Had a lion grabbed him by the neck, it is extremely unlikely that he would have escaped with his life, and it is very improbably that a hyena would have grabbed him in that manner. The injury was consistent with one that another leopard would inflict, and the Gowrie male was the most likely culprit.
In a rather shocking development, it was only a week or two after this that the saga of the young male’s life came to a dramatic and rather horrific end, when he was killed and partially consumed by the Gowrie male himself.
Although predators don’t often eat other predators, it has been recorded that males of both lions and leopards in particular will eat their fallen foes in what is presumed to be a dominance display. The Tutlwa young male was fathered by the Marthly male, and the Gowrie male being new to the area would have instinctively wanted to eliminate him. The timing for the Tutlwa young male was also not fortuitous, in that the ageing Marthly male was being forced to cede territory to the Gowrie male all the time, and was therefore not really a protective force.
In only two short years, only the Tutlwa female herself remains out of the main characters in the story. The cubs, as well as the Gowrie and Marthly males, have all met their demise.
As told in other posts, this is simply the ongoing, natural, healthy and inevitable change in a wild population. Individuals die or move out. New individuals fill in the blank spaces on the map. The cycle continues.
Although not a lot has been seen of the Tutlwa female of late, we suspect she has been mating with the 4:4 male, the reclusive individual about whom we know so little. As is her wont, we will most likely find her in a month or two, heavily pregnant…
Out of six litters (a total of at least twelve cubs) that the Tutlwa female has birthed, only a single female has survived to adulthood (the Nhlanguleni female). The Nhlanguleni female’s brother was still seen around the area on a number of occasions after independence, but remained skittish, so there is a possibility that he survived to disperse elsewhere.
Hopefully her next litter – whenever it arrives – meets with greater success…
Great blog James, let’s hope the Tutlwa’s next litter survives to independence. Luck has definitely not been on her side when it comes to being able to keep her cubs safe.
To have only had one, maybe two, cubs survive out of 12 or more is sad & shocking. Perhaps it explains why she’s thought to have killed more than one of Nanga’s cubs. Leopard life is hard…
Looking back at my notes you tracked and found the Tutlwa female in Dec 2014 for us. At that time she was flirting with the Makhotini male. Was he the father of any of these cubs? It was also at this time we found an unknown male later thought to be the 4:4 Robson?
Thanks. Can’t get enough of Tutlwa. She is a fascinating big, bold leopardess and a little bit of a mystery. Everyone else is having cubs, I hope she is next.