The recent news on the leopard front has been the incursion of the Xidulu female back onto Londolozi soil.
With the area still in the grip of drought, many animals – predators included – have been focusing their movements in and around the Sand River, and this has placed a lot of pressure on one small corner of the reserve in particular, near Londolozi’s eastern boundary, where the Xidulu female and the much younger Nkoveni female have clashed numerous times over the last couple of months.
The Xidulu female was born in 2001 and the Nkoveni female in 2012, and the 11 year age gap has certainly seemed to tell in favour of the older leopard. Although entering her twilight years, the Xidulu female looks to have had the upper hand in most encounters. Although the Nkoveni female has reacted aggressively on a number of occasions, her older (and significantly bigger) rival has not been too fazed.
The Xidulu female also has more reason to be aggressive; she is raising two cubs of about six months old, so is by default going to be highly defensive of the area in which she is hunting and stashing her youngsters. The Nkoveni female by contrast has been mating pretty consistently with the Piva male, so it is hoped she might birth a litter within the next couple of months, having lost her first litter earlier this year.
Leopards are conflict-averse animals, preferring to disdain a physical encounter rather than risk injury or even death, so most interactions between the two female has involved growling but little else. What has been interesting to see is the generally relaxed nature of the Xidulu female’s cubs when the Nkoveni female is nearby.
Once the drought breaks, the grass returns, and prey species once more spread out into the areas surrounding the Sand River, it is likely that the two leopards will disperse as well, and be able to focus their hunting efforts elsewhere. Although pressure will be somewhat alleviated on the two, we may well see further clashes occurring in the area, particularly if the Nkoveni female births a litter in the next two months.
The river and everything it is currently offering in these hard times – water (although not very much), shade, and food, has become an even more hotly contested area than normal, and it is certainly not only leopards that are frequenting its channels and reedbeds. The Sparta pride are hunting buffalo with alarming frequency in the river to the east, and the Tsalala Pride has pretty much taken up permanent residence in front of the Londolozi Camps, taking down nyalas, waterbuck and old buffalo bulls. We rushed out with a vehicle and cameras two days ago at around 11am to respond to the calls of a buffalo in distress, knowing the two lionesses had been seen in front of Granite Camp in the morning, but the old bull they had been attempting to pull down managed to make good his escape, and all the pride got was an Nyala lamb they stumbled upon in the shade a matumi tree.
Whatever the combination of factors, it has never been my experience at Londolozi to witness two female leopards seen so frequently, so near to each other and in such a small stretch of river frontage as the Xidulu and Nkoveni females are being viewed right now. The last encounter we saw between them saw the Nkoveni female walking away with a couple of lacerations on her right flank, and although the actual fight was not witnessed, only the aftermath, we can presume this wasn’t the first – and almost certainly not the last – time these two leopards will clash over some of the best leopard habitat in the world.