“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” – Unknown
Leopard cubs are born after a gestation period of roughly 90-100 days and are born completely blind, and remain so for the first 10 days of their lives . They are born in concealed dens in and amongst rocks, termite mound holes, fallen and hollowed out trees and amongst very dense thickets. Their mother will potentially move them to a new den-site every few days by carrying them until they are old enough to walk alongside her (usually at around 8 weeks) which is the age that they will be introduced to meat for the first time. They will be weaned by around 4 months of age and will then be feeding exclusively on meat provided by their mother. Cubs will usually start making small kills anywhere from 6-12 months old and will usually be “abandoned” by their mother anywhere between 18 – 24 months of age according to the textbooks, but we have seen cubs leave their mothers at less than a year and survive, while others sometimes remain dependent until over the age of three.
Upon reaching independence, male and female cubs start to have very different paths. Usually a mother leopard will “surrender” a small piece of her territory for her daughter, while the male will leave the area due to the presence of dominant males.
Survival rates for leopards in their first year of life are not very high due to a number of factors and it doesn’t become any easier to survive when they lose the protection of their mothers. On top of that, the young males now have to venture into unfamiliar territories and avoid being killed by lions and other leopards. It is a very vulnerable stage of their lives and they spend a few years being nomadic and avoiding danger until they reach an age where they can challenge for a territory of their own (usually between 5-6 years).
We have recently seen the unfortunate passing of the 4:4 male, and his death sees the western side of Londolozi (to the south of the river) vacant. Who is going to take over this area is the question we’ve all been asking. Possibly the Piva male, Anderson male or the Makothini male? Well, for the time being, it is still unclaimed and the “free” territory has been filled by a young and very entertaining character.
Enter the young nomad.
It is always a treat viewing a new leopard for the first time and this young male is very bold and curious, which is normal for a young male but fascinating to watch. This male is known in the southern Sabi Sands as the Flat Rock male, as Kevin Power mentioned in a previous blog, and was born just south of the Sabi River near Lion Sands Game Reserve. He is around 3 years old and has been seen hanging around in the area that the 4:4 male used to occupy. He has already had a run-in with the Mashaba female and she seems not to be pleased with his presence, due to the fact that she may be denning cubs sired by the 4:4 male. The Mashaba young female also occupies this area and has been seen a little less since he arrived. This could also just be a coincidence, considering that she has not been on her own for very long. This new leopard may ruffle a few feathers, and is at risk as the much larger Piva male has been seen moving further west than he normally does, opening up the potential for their paths to cross in future.
Whether or not he sticks around will remain to be seen. For now the chance of viewing this young nomad is a possibility and, if you are lucky enough to see him, you are in for a serious treat.