Leopards are territorial animals. Males and females will begin to establish territories once they have left their mothers and become independent. For a female it is sometimes slightly easier; as their mother usually allows them to establish a territory quite close to hers and studies have shown that young females sometimes even “inherit” a small part of their mother’s territory. For young males it isn’t always as easy, they receive a lot of pressure from the dominant male in the area, usually their father. This usually forces the young males to become quite nomadic, leaving the land they have grown to know around 2,5 – 3 years of age, and they begin to venture into unknown areas.
A few days ago we had an “unknown” young nomadic male venturing onto the northern parts of Londolozi. My tracker and I were searching for leopard that afternoon, checking all the spots we thought we may find one of the elusive cats, or at least signs of one of them in order to steer us in the right direction. Driving down into the Manyaleti River, my tracker erupted with one of the more excited shouts of “leopard” I had ever heard. Across the bank from us a leopard sat watching us. One can see a leopard time after time, but it always seems to take your breath away every time you lay your eyes on these beautiful cats. The moment I saw it I noticed this leopard wasn’t as relaxed as we would expect from the usual leopards we find in that area (The Nanga Female or the Tutlwa Female.) I thought it may be as a result of the excited shriek from Ray but it wasn’t that. Upon closer inspection I noticed it was a male, a very young male and one that we didn’t know.
We managed to get a little closer to the leopard as he was showing interest in two klipspringers that were perched on the rocky outcrop he was walking over. Again I had a closer look and confirmed with my tracker Ray, we had certainly never seen this leopard before. He had now started to relax quite substantially, allowing us some really good viewing. His initial skittishness I would say was a combination of being out of his comfort zone combined with an ecstatic Raymond’s celebration.
He certainly showed all the signs of being a new leopard into an area. He was very aware his surroundings, stopping and listening to every noise he heard, possibly making sure that it wasn’t a dominant male in the area. He did have a small gash on his right front leg, most likely from a run in with another leopard, male or female, earlier on in his walk-about. He would stop every 5 minutes or so to sniff at a tree or a rock, picking up on the scent of a male or female who had previously passed by. The interesting thing was that he was walking through an area that was previously occupied by the Dudley River Bank 5:5 Male, which has now been left “open” since his unfortunate passing. Could he have worked out that there was an opening in the territory that he could potentially occupy?
Incredibly, the 5:5 young male was adopted by his grandmother, the 3:4 female, and raised by her.
Thanks to the power of social media and networking amongst guides in the Greater Kruger Park Area, I managed to find out who our visitor was. It turned out to be a young male called the Flat Rock male. He was born in 2013, to the Porcupine female and the Mbavala male. He has ventured all the way from the Kruger Park south of Londolozi and to the south of the Sabi River. He must have passed through numerous dominant males’ territories to get here and I’m sure he will continue to move through more areas he’s not welcome in. All of this is part of the learning process for young males and is natures’ way of spreading the gene pool. By doing this he moves far from the area in which potential sisters or mother holds territory, meaning he has more of a chance of mating with females outside of his family.
Whether this leopard decides to try set up a territory around Londolozi or if it was just a passing by, it was a truly amazing sighting spending time with a young male whilst he explored this foreign land. He eventually reached our northern boundary where we watched him cross the road and carry on his walk-about, heading deeper into new uncharted territory.