It becomes more than just an interest, to watch the development of an individual animal in nature, as fascination and respectful appreciation engulfs the observer.
General behavioural studies are enough to satisfy the nature enthusiast and during the current extraordinary conditions most observations are even more interesting. However, to watch the progress and character evolution of an individual over a long period of time is second to none. It is a privilege to witness a wild animal mature as they advance through nature’s brutal challenges, and when the subject is a beautiful female leopard it is even better.
With her recent independence from her mother, the Mashaba young female leopard continues to survive in one of the densest regions of predators without any guidance. Sure, the Mashaba female was a brilliant mother and did well to protect her one surviving cub of her May 2015 litter for more than a year, but now she has moved on and is looking to reproduce again; meaning no more time to babysit.
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the camps and vehicles.
Being nowhere near dominant, and only just independant, the Mashaba young female holds on to her mother’s name for now, and must make it through this difficult time finding her feet, keeping herself well fed and out of trouble before she can start even considering claiming territory and facing already dominant females which currently surround her. Also nearby and in all directions, and without the any legitimate territorial barrier, roam several prides of lions and one (potentially a second in the Majingilane) coalition of males, as well as clans of hyena and many other large mammals posing a threat to her. With two breakaway prides having no established territory but rather huge “home ranges”, unexpected encounters with them are more likely than normal, and the young female leopard could meet her fate at any time.
Being in one of the most sought-after regions of the Sabi Sands, along its lifeline the Sand River, she really has a long and difficult road ahead of her before making a name for herself. However, the exuberant youngster is really starting to prove herself able. Not only has she been seen avoiding potentially dangerous areas when prides are around, as she should, but she is beginning to take down some large prey for herself, and impressively hoists her meals high up and securely in densely canopied trees which prevent discovery from vultures and subsequent scavengers; all signs of a well-raised cub.
Recently, she was seen with a baboon kill in a beautiful Leadwood tree which, as impressive as it is, lent some concern amongst the rangers and trackers. Not only is this a very difficult animal to physically catch due to its agility and ability to climb quickly, but just getting into striking range of a baboon is a feat within itself due to the troop’s unwavering vigilance. As such, the kill ranks high on the difficulty scale and isn’t what one would expect from a young and inexperienced leopard.
Despite this, it is important to acknowledge the potential dangers of wild baboons, especially powerful males and the troop in great numbers. I’m sure we all realise that mob mentality creates a great deal of courage and aggression, and this is even true in the face of an adult leopard. Last year the 7-year-old Tu Tones male became too frequently hunting and killing baboons that eventually one hunt he was spotted and attacked by the largest few males with the support of all other adults in the troop. They not only chased him off but inflicted so much damage to the dominant male that he soon died after losing his ability to move or hunt. If that’s what can be done to an adult male leopard then the Mashaba young female at a quarter his weight wouldn’t stand a chance. So hopefully baboon isn’t often on her menu of preference.
The Tu Tones male astounded everyone by establishing his territory within his father Camp Pan's territory.
That being said, the stunning young female continues to wow guests with her beauty, and it has only been her confidence which has dampened. Several months ago when she was often with her mother, she could have been the most relaxed leopard on Londolozi as she never even acknowledged the vehicles’ presence. Since independence she has understandably been very nervous as she has accepted the lack of her mother’s presence and guidance, and must now survive (by hunting prey and avoiding danger) all on her own.
But currently, with a couple large prey kills and successfully hoisted meals under her belt, she may start relaxing again and grow into a very confident, very respected and very relaxed female leopard to observe in the wild. And what a journey that would be!