At the risk of us being a bit leopard-heavy this week (as if that’s a bad thing!), I’d like to briefly examine the current states of the Tutlwa and Nanga females, both of whom reside in the northern parts of the property, west of where the Maliliwane female from yesterday’s post used to be found.
These two females have a turbulent history, with the Tutlwa female having killed at least one of the Nanga female’s litters, and almost certainly a second in Winter (for the Southern Hemisphere) of last year. Female infanticide has hardly been recorded in leopards, yet the circumstances in this case hardly make it surprising. The two females are not genetically related and therefore more likely to be aggressive than, say, litter-mates or a mother and daughter, they share a territorial border, and unfortunately for them the prime densites in the area (the line of koppies that run along the northern bank of the Manyelethi river) form pretty much the exact boundary line between them, making stashing cubs there for either of them a slightly more chancy business. It has been well documented that female leopards will cede off territory to their daughters, promoting a strong genetic presence in an area, but in this case, no such thing exists, and the two come from completely separate lineages.
The reason I am broaching this topic now is the strong possibility that each leopard is secreting a litter somewhere. No-one has yet laid eyes on any cubs, and we don’t anticipate doing so for some time as they will still be tiny, but both females are exhibiting the signs of suckling, and only recently so.
In years past, fate has not smiled on either leopard, with the Tutlwa female’s last success in raising cubs being her 2011 litter of which the Nhlanguleni female was a part, and the Nanga female only having raised one cub to the age of 11 months before she had another litter and he was forced into independence. We are unsure of his whereabouts, but hope he matured elsewhere and managed to establish a niche for himself.
Early last year, just before the Tutlwa female killed the Nanga female’s litter, she lost her own three cubs to the unfortunate presence of the old Marthly male, who had been forced from his territory and was nomadically roaming the Manyelethi River. After what was an incredibly quick turnaround time for a leopard, she gave birth again only four months later to what we think was a single cub, denned in some debris in the bed of the Sand River opposite Granite Camp. She was followed to this den by ranger Don Heyneke and tracker Lucky Shabangu, and they could hear the cub inside the tangle of branches but were unable to get a view of it. The cub was not seen again.
This year, however, things are looking a bit better.
We suspect that the Nanga female may once again be denning along the Southern Cross Koppies, but the good news for her is the nearby densite of the Tsalala pride. Okay, this is certainly not the best news for a leopard attempting to raise very young cubs, but where the pride is denning is exactly where the Tutlwa female first denned last year, depriving her of a favoured densite, and hopefully forcing her to stash her cubs much further afield, too far to be a constant threat to the Nanga female’s litter. The grassy crests opposite camp are certainly no place to be keeping very young cubs, and apart from the Sand River, the next best drainage system is the Tutlwa drainage, which gave the leopard her name. This is far to the west, and the tracks that have been repeatedly seen going into and coming out of the drainage suggest that this may the female’s chosen site.
Either way, we probably won’t be seeing much of either litter for some time while the females keep them well hidden.
With the two leopards denning far from each other and a relatively stable male population, I am hoping that 2016 could see both individuals meet with more success in raising offspring.