A few weeks ago we ran a post on the impending independence of the Mashaba young female. At the age of 14 months, we speculated that it probably wasn’t too long before her mother the Mashaba female abandoned her for good.
A mother leaving it’s female cub does not generally mean that the cub will be completely out in the cold; although the mother leopard won’t be providing food for it (them) anymore, she will usually tolerate female cubs of hers in her territory for awhile before putting proper pressure on them to leave permanently.
For the past six days, the Mashaba young female has been seemingly abandoned. She has been seen on a number of occasions over this time period in the same location: a deep gully where her mother denned her for a few weeks when she and her brother (now deceased) were only a couple of months old. Wandering around, almost certainly waiting for her mother to return, she has been getting thinner and thinner, and if her mother doesn’t return to her, she will have to start hunting for herself or face starvation. This is pretty much the standard formula for a young leopard being pushed into independence, although it is not yet confirmed that the Mashaba female has left her for good, since she has been preoccupied herself of late.
She (the Mashaba female) has been mating with the 4:4 male, a leopard well known for his enigmatic nature, and the pair have been moving in a big loop around the periphery of the male’s territory, sticking mainly to steep drainage lines and riverbeds. At one point they were spotted moving past where the Matimba male lions were feeding on a buffalo carcass, but continued in safety down the Maxabene river. The last point at which the two of them were seen together was to the south east of camp, heading for the Sand River itself.
This morning tracker Euce Madonsela caught a brief glimpse of a leopard on foot while following tracks of a male, and from the size of the tracks and the brief glimpse he got of the leopard he believed it to be the 4:4 male. There were no tracks of a female with him, so it is presumed the pair has split up.
About an hour prior to Euce spotting the male, ranger Chris Goodman, whilst prepping a plunger of coffee at Varty Camp deck before the sun was up, heard the squeals of an animal in distress just in front of the deck. When he shone his torch down into the riverbed, he caught sight of a female leopard killing a small bushbuck, before she dragged the carcass north into a date palm thicket. He didn’t get a good enough look to ID the leopard, but reckoned it to be bigger than the Nkoveni female, who along with the Mashaba female is also known to frequent the riverine vegetation near camp. If it was the Mashaba female who made the kill, and she has indeed separated from the 4:4 male, then her next step should seemingly be to fetch her cub and take it to the kill. If she doesn’t do this, we can probably assume that the cub is now officially on its own.
Senior Londolozi tracker Jerry Hambana is of the opinion that the Mashaba female is not yet ready to abandon her cub into independence. He thinks she will be returning for it, and only once she is ready to birth her next litter (which she may be in three months if the mating with the 4:4 male was successful) will she finally leave it to its own devices.
So far the Mashaba female has raised one cub to independence (the Nkoveni female). She lost a litter of three in 2014 (we suspect to the 4:4 male), but it looks as though she is on the brink of her second success in raising offspring. With the drought still firmly upon us, and the bush offering only sparse cover for hunting, it will be fascinating to see if the Mashaba young female can cope with the conditions should she be forced to go solo.