In several shots it appears a vehicle is quite close to the mating pair. How does this impact their efforts?
One would have thought so, yes.
A mating pair of leopards will often seek out the relative seclusion of a drainage line or a thicket for their tryst, but every once in awhile this relatively rare act to witness takes place in the open in an unrivalled viewing opportunity.
The Mashaba female was recently found far out of her usual territory mating with the Piva male, for the second time in 10 days. Their first bout had lasted for roughly four days before they seperated, most likely in an attempt to find some food and reestablish their respective territorial boundaries. They had reunited within 48 hours; a risk for the Mashaba female as she was now deep in the territory of the Tamboti female.
Having recently lost her latest litter (we suspect to the newly arrived Flat Rock male), she has been mating both with him and the dominant Piva male in the eastern areas of Londolozi. Most of her mating has been taking place in thickets where photography and viewing has been limited, but Alistair Smith and Euce Madonsela found her with the Piva male on a grey and drizzly afternoon, right out in the middle of a clearing.
It has been well documented that female leopards will attempt to mate with multiple males in the area in order to confuse the paternity of their cubs, thus ensuring tolerance from each male. Since up to 40% of leopard infanticide is attribute to unrelated males, this strategy – although not foolproof – certainly has its logic.
The Mashaba female, in venturing far out of the territory she holds, must have deemed the risk affordable in order to mate with the Piva male. Ironically, the day after this sighting he was found only a few hundred metres from Varty Camp, which is deep in the Mshaba female’s normal hunting grounds; a far safer place for her to have attempted an amorous union.
Whatever the case, it is rare that one is granted such an open view of two of these beautiful cats in the open.
Having split up after this particular sighting, the Mashaba female was found near the airstrip yesterday afternoon, and the Piva male had been within a few hundred metres of the same spot in the morning. The female was uttering her rasping call as darkness fell, and she moved into a creek bed near camp where we couldn’t follow. She may well have met up with the male again last night, but neither of them were found this morning so we cannot be sure.
Is she pregnant already, and only mating to placate the Piva male? The good news is that the gestation period of a leopard is only around three months, so we won’t have long to wait and see.
A very valid question.
It doesn’t impact them at all. In the photos in which the vehicle is very close, the leopards approached the vehicle, not the other way around. The rangers are well aware of the boundaries they must not cross when approaching animals, and any shot in which animals are in close proximity, the animal has taken it upon itself to go closer.
Most leopards in the reserve have seen the Game Drive vehicles since they were very young, and as we are very sensitive driving near them when they are cubs, they grow up realising the vehicles pose no threat and accept our presence there.