Textbooks can be necessarily vague when it comes to giving facts and figures about wild animals, and when looking up the age of leopard independence, one will generally read that they split from their mothers at around 18-24 months. While this is a relatively common age for them to start going solo, it can in fact be much earlier than this, or even much later.
Leopards at Londolozi have been recorded being fully independent from the age of 11 months, and leopards elsewhere have been seen still heavily dependent on their mothers at about 3 years of age. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not fixed, and at the moment, the Mashaba young female is slowly starting to show signs of doing her own thing.
Left alone by her mother for longer and longer periods of time, she has been found on many occasions recently simply wandering about by herself. She will attempt to stalk small animals, climb the odd tree, and generally indulge the innate curiosity to be found in leopard cubs of this age (she is just over a year old now).
I am by no means saying she is about to up and wander off overnight, I am simply relating the fact that the change is slowly starting to become apparent.
Generally what will happen with the Mashaba female and her daughter is that the adult will leave the cub in order to go hunting. Since the cub can survive for awhile without food, her mother can afford to leave her for a couple of days if needs be. If the Mashaba female is succesful in bringing down a prey animal, she will stash the kill and return to where she left her daughter to fetch her to the carcass.
Given that the cub has started exploring independently, she will often not be in the exact spot at which she was left. The Mashaba female will have to call for her; softly grunting at first, and if the cub doesn’t respond, eventually building up into the full roar we usually associate with territorial calling. This loud sawing call will almost certainly be loud enough to reach the cub’s ears, as she will probably not have strayed too far.
As the cub reaches full independence, her mother will become less and less tolerant of her presence, especially around a kill, and eventually she will just not go and fetch her. The cub will have to realise that her mother is not returning and will be forced to start moving around and hunting for herself. She will most likely have the luxury of being tolerated in her mother’s territory for another year or so, but where she goes after that is anyone’s guess.
The Mashaba female herself does not have a great deal of territory to cede off, and the areas to the east, west and north are firmly occupied by the Nkoveni, Nhlanguleni and Tutlwa females respectively. To the south is a bit of space, although we know the Tatowa female rears her head there from time to time. The Tatowa female herself was forced to disperse far from her mother’s territory as there were no real vacancies adjacent to it, and it is certainly possible that we will see the Mashaba young female being forced to do the same thing in the years to come…