The name Maliliwane (previously Campbell Koppies young female) is not one that has featured too regularly on the Londolozi blog in years past. One of our least known leopards who resides in an area not traversed all that often, it is fair to say that sightings of her have been few and far between. That’s not to say others haven’t seen her, as a substantial portion of her territory lies (lay?) outside of our traversing area.
Now, sadly, it seems that she may be gone. The last sighting of her was over a month ago and she was apparently in very poor condition. Reports were that she was raising a new litter at the time which makes her loss doubly sad.
I think it’s pretty hard for us to conceive the physical demands placed on a leopard’s body whilst raising young. Especially a litter of three, which the Maliliwane female reportedly had. The cubs were estimated to be roughly two months old, and the loss of their mother means that unfortunately they would suffer the same fate. There is no two month old leopard cub on earth that would be able to raise itself to maturity.
The female, as well as having to hunt to provide sustenance for herself, would also have been producing milk for her cubs, as they are only weaned at about three to four months old. Until that time, the energy drain she must experience must be astronomical. If she is unable to catch anything successfully (a leopard can easily go a week between meals) while she is nursing, her condition is likely to deteriorate that much more rapidly, and a leopard with quickly waning energy reserves becomes less and less able to adequately protect herself. So the early months of a litter’s existence are not only an incredibly vulnerable time for them, but a vulnerable time for their mother as well.
Exactly what the fate of the Maliliwane female and her litter was, we will probably never know. Maybe lions got her. Maybe a hyena surprised her while she was on the ground, and in desperation to defend her kill, she took it on, to her downfall. I have seen nursing females after a number of consecutive days with no food, and can attest to the fact that they are little more than skin and bones. It is general policy at Londolozi not to spend time with such a female, to avoid our presence impacting any hunting opportunities she may have.
The Maliliwane female has generally popped up on our radar when she has had a cub or a litter. Often we will have had no inkling of the litter’s existence as we won’t have seen the female for a couple of months. In mid-2011 she was found with a cub on an impala kill. It was the first time the cubs had ever been seen on our property, and it was already probably close to nine months old. Sadly that cub didn’t survive.
A year-and-a-half later the female was again discovered with a cub, documented in a post from 2013. This cubs was reported to have been killed by hyenas a month or two after the sighting.
In 2014 the female finally had some success, and raised a female cub to independence. This young leopard is encountered every now and again in the same territory her mother once held, and now that the Maliliwane female looks to have disappeared for good, it is quite possible the young female will look to move into the area.
As recently as early August last year the Maliliwane female was denning cubs in the drainage line that gave her her name. At least three different dens were discovered within a short space of time (see map) as the female kept moving her cubs between prominent termite mounds, but only one or two brief sightings of the youngsters were obtained when they were still very small.
No further sign was had of that litter, and now, sadly, with what looks like only one individual raised successfully to independence out of at least 5 litters, the Maliliwane female will not get another chance.
In order to contribute to the continuation of her species, she needed only to replicate herself genetically, and in that at least, she was successful. We look forward to reporting that her surviving offspring is establishing herself in the bushwillow thickets through which her mother once roamed.