To witness animals mating in the wild is always an intriguing spectacle. It provides amusement and wonder for everyone watching and sometimes a few awkward giggles as well. As a guide you choose your words very carefully as you try and interpret what’s going on in front of you, and if there are kids on the vehicle you sometimes gladly sit back and listen as either Mum or Dad is tasked with giving an impromptu “Birds and the Bees” talk. Either way, it’s a special sighting because it’s not the everyday animal behaviour one gets to experience and it also signifies the beginning of a new life that in a few months time will be faced with the daunting task of trying to survive in the African bush.
When the mating pair happens to be leopards the excitement is compounded. The thrill of spotting just one leopard is usually enough in itself, so when a second leopard comes into view you struggle to believe your luck. The fact that you are watching two adult leopards, solitary and elusive by nature, engage in behaviour that is not observed on a regular basis and together with the knowledge that this behaviour could be responsible for the next generation of leopards in Londolozi, it makes for an incredibly special and memorable sighting.
Now keeping all of this in mind, imagine the excitement a few mornings ago when TWO pairs of mating leopards were found a few kilometres apart! The first pair was the Mashaba female together with the Robsons 4:4 male which James Tyrrell wrote about earlier this week. The second pair, which I was fortunate enough to see, was the Tamboti Young Female and the Piva Male.
They had first been found together two days before in the Maxabene riverbed not too far away from our eastern boundary and on this particular morning they were tracked from there all the way to the Sand River. One of the benefits of the dry winter is that the grass is really short and so when we arrived in the sighting we saw the Piva male lying out in the open, fast asleep in the morning sun. We scanned the thicket line in the direction of where we were told the Tamboti young female was hiding, but to no avail. After a short while, the lure of hot chocolate and coffee was too much and so we left with the idea of coming back afterwards to see if anything had changed. Luckily, it had!
We got back into the sighting to find the Piva male with his head up this time and then we spotted the Tamboti young female peering in his direction from behind a fallen over tree. She stretched and yawned and walked over to him before proceeding to parade herself back and forth in front of him willing him to get up and mate with her which he eventually did.
Born in January 2013, the Tamboti Young Female is still a young leopard who hasn’t sired a litter just yet. She has been seen mating once before earlier this year but failed to conceive, perhaps due to her young age. As she approaches 4 years old this will hopefully change. She will become increasingly fertile and, when in oestrus, will look for every chance to mate in order to have her first litter of cubs.
Mating is a prolonged, aggressive affair, as seen in the photos and video. It can go on for as long as 5 days and at an average interval of 20 minutes between sessions it means that by the end of it the two individuals could have mated over 300 times. It is a painful experience for the female due to the barbed end of the male’s penis and as a result there is a lot of biting and clawing as the female lashes out at the male. The whole process lasts no longer than a minute and after a ferocious and lightning quick squabble it’s all over and they lie back down or carry on walking just as they were before. Sometimes, you only hear them due to the thick area they may be moving through but on this particular morning we were treated to the whole spectacle right in front of us and out in the open.
Hopefully this time for the Tamboti Young Female the mating is a success and she will fall pregnant. Her gestation period is between 90-105 days and so we will continue searching for her and keeping a watch to see if there is any sign of a “baby bump” growing. In the greater scheme of things, this could potentially be the next generation of the famous Sunset Bend female leopard’s lineage and at the same time add the next chapter to the story that is the Leopards of Londolozi.