Many years ago I was lucky enough to encounter the Mashaba 3:3 Female one late afternoon in May. She was full from eating an impala which she had stalked and killed two days prior. This female leopard had recently secured a prominent territory for herself in an area along the Sand River, just to the east of the Londolozi camps, and for the first time looked as though she was confident in her seat as a now dominant female leopard of Londolozi.
And so it was with a sense of nostalgia that we happened upon the the newly dominant Nkoveni 2:2 female on a blissful Friday evening game drive. Her rich golden coat and slightly rotund head are indicative of her genealogy and in particular she presented a striking resemblance her mother, the Mashaba 3:3 Female, with the exception of the uniquely prominent spot on her mother’s nose.
The Londolozi field team have always had a soft spot for the Mashaba 3:3 Female, ever since she was born and raised by the Vomba 3:2 Female in the period from 2008 to 2010. Having reached independence fairly early on for a female leopard, the Mashaba 3:3 Female usurped some of her mother’s territory in the prime region along the Sand River and further south through a series of productive drainage lines which she would frequent on a routine basis. The Mashaba female gave birth to her first litter of cubs in late August 2012 and of these two cubs that were born, the Nkoveni female has survived and now reached adulthood.
There would have been numerous sightings and pictures of this beautiful female leopard on the Londolozi blog since 2012 and indeed her first mention was on Talley Smith’s The Week in Pictures 52 where it was also suggested that the Marthly 3:2 Male is her likely father. Speaking of fathers, it was Talley’s dad who showcased the first picture of the Mashaba Young Female a in December 2012 on his guest blog The Week in Pictures 63…
Because of her relatively isolated first few months in the Sand River, it was a while before she was habituated to the Land Rovers, but over a two week period at about seven months of age she suddenly relaxed noticeably, and subsequent sightings were all far easier to manage. By the time March 2013 rolled around, James Tyrrell was regularly featuring her on his weekly TWIPS.
2014 was a formative year for the Mashaba Young Female as she spent increasingly lengthy periods of time apart from her mother, yet still in the general vicinity of her territory. Many sightings of her were in and around the Sand River and occasionally in front of camp. The troubled cries of crested francolin in the early morning and late afternoons were a sure sign that she was slipping by, seemingly unnoticed by staff and guests. Around April 2014 she was showcased again in Mike Sutherland’s post detailing The Rise of a Future Generation of leopards at Londolozi and here she was now one of the standout ‘young guns’ getting ready to take her place as one of Londolozi’s most loved and well known female leopards.
It was however, only in the middle of 2015 that this leopard really reached independence and began securing her own territory in exactly the same area that her mother (Mashaba) had “borrowed” from her mother (Vomba). And so the Mashaba 2:2 Young Female received the name the Nkoveni 2:2 Female. Nkoveni, loosely translated from Shangaan, means “At the river” and this fitting name was given to her owing to the majority of her sightings being in and around the Sand River to the east of camp.
Fittingly she also received her very own feature post on the Londolozi blog in November 2015 and Simon Smit showcased some truly spectacular images of this leopard as a young adulthood.
And so we find ourselves entering the 2016 winter season at Londolozi with these gloriously balmy afternoons presenting leopard sightings in golden light and the Nkoveni female continuing to grace us with her enigmatic and unbelievably relaxed presence. A descendent of the Sunsetbend lineage, she is now ever larger, healthier and more beautiful in her movements and her charisma. She is symbolic of the Londolozi’s love affair with the natural world and in particular with its wild, free-ranging leopards with whom we have developed a kinship.
Perhaps it is an understanding, perhaps it is an energetic exchange of presence and knowing, perhaps it is the fruit of decades of respect and patience to try and understand each other?
Whatever it is, it gives me hope to know that there are places on this earth where harmony abounds whilst man and nature exist in balance…