Recently we were privy to a pretty remarkable few days of leopard viewing. This may seem like a redundant comment to make when Londolozi is renowned for its leopards but in my opinion, these sightings were particularly special. The Piva male had made an impala kill, the Inyatini male was on a territorial mission and two young female leopards were desperately seeking out mates. All fairly typical, yes, but it was when they all met that things got particularly interesting.
How we believe it began was with the Piva male making a kill and hoisting it in the Inyatini drainage line but when rangers found him, he was away from his kill and was in fact with the Nkoveni female, who at the time was high in a tree and the male was looking highly agitated. The reason for this was that in a drainage line adjacent to him, another leopard, the Inyatini male, was calling. This area is where the males’ territories meet and neither was happy about the presence of the other. Both males were salivating heavily, pacing up and down, calling repeatedly and continuously scratching their urine into the ground; apparently each trying to stake a claim to the area. Had the Inyatini male been out calling and Piva went to seek him out to settle a territorial dispute or had the Inyatini male smelt the kill and come in to see if he could scavenge a free meal? Of this we can’t be sure. The Nkoveni female was completely disinterested in this fight though and seemed hell-bent on mating; flinging herself wildly at the Piva male, desperately trying to entice him. He quite aggressively reprimanded her which sent her scuttling back to the safety of the tree and it was only when the Inyatini male had lost interest and moved off for good that the Piva male returned to the young female to mate.
The next morning, rangers rushed back to the spot but there were no leopards to be found. Tracking them down, they eventually relocated the impala kill and again, three leopards! Only this time it was a lot further down the drainage line and the leopards weren’t the same make up as the night before. This time there were two females instead of one. The Ndzanzeni female, who had been heard calling south of their position the previous evening had apparently heard the mating and come in to find the male. For the next two days it seemed Piva had the pick of two females and flitted continuously between both.
When I saw them on the evening of the 18th, I was completely blown away. Up in the tree was the Piva male and below him lay two leopardesses, shifting from periods of intense rest to snapping at flies and then to growling and snapping at each other. The real activity began when the Ndzanzeni female could no longer restrain herself and shot up the tree to try to entice the male down. She leapt from branch to branch, flinging herself at and under him only to receive snarls and snaps in return. This did not deter her in the slightest and she continued to rub herself against the bark of the tree, squeeze between Piva and his kill, scale down the tree, only to fly back up again just a few minutes later.
Eventually this seemed to do the trick and he followed her down the tree. There at the base, just meters from the vehicle, the mating occurred and the alternating between females began. Literally as he would finish mating with one, the other would start to rub up against him and it seemed the more he snarled and tried to move away, the more the females sat on him, flung themselves at him and scratched their feet into the sand in front of his face, showering him in dust. In the space of half an hour, Piva must have mated at least ten times; quite a feat when you realise that would mean he mated every three minutes and had been doing so for two days.
The females growled and snapped at each other but despite their obvious distaste for each other’s presence they avoided making actual contact. This may have to do with the young age of both of the females as well as the fact that these solitary cats attempt to avoid conflict as much as possible so that they do not end up with an injury that would jeopardize hunting and thus survival. That evening the females crossed east over our boundary and we are therefore unsure of how the saga ended. What we do know though is that the relationships between these creatures is complex to say the least. I find that we are constantly learning that to say these cats are strictly solitary is to over-simplify their interactions and we can be glad that we were around to witness this particular meeting.
Written by Amy Attenborough, Photographs by Trevor McCall-Peat and Kevin Power and Video by Kevin Power.