To see a leopard is special. By nature they are very shy and secretive animals and have historically rarely allowed us into their worlds. However, here at Londolozi, we are extremely privileged that some of the leopards in our area have become habituated to the presence of the vehicles and allow us to view them at a safe, close distance, and accept us to be a part of their lives for a short period of time. To see two leopards together is incredible! The only time this might potentially happen is if a male and female are mating, a mother has cubs, or when two leopards interact by chance over territory or food. To see three adult leopards together is almost unheard of.
A week ago my guests and I were privileged enough to see just that; three leopards in one sighting. The Piva male and Mashaba female were found mating early on in the morning. We were looking for another leopard at the time but unfortunately could not find her, and so we decided to make our way towards the two. We were treated to an incredible sighting; with both leopards being very relaxed individuals we could spend time with them and really observe the behaviour. We followed them for about two hours whilst they went about their mating ritual.
It was a clear day, and so by about 8:30 it had started to get really hot. Most days when the mercury starts to rise, the cats will move into the shade and rest until it cools down again in the afternoon. That’s what we thought would happen. The two did indeed head off into the shade of a large thorn tree and we thought that must be it for the morning.
Just as we were about to leave, ever-observant tracker Ray Mabilane spotted another leopard about 80 metres away making its way towards us. The excitement levels shot through the roof, there was now a third leopard in one sighting! On closer inspection we saw it was the Nkoveni female, the Mashaba female’s previous cub that she managed to raise to independence, who now holds territory adjacent to her mother’s.
She approached the mating pair – who were not aware of her at first – very cautiously. When she finally got close to the pair her nerve seemed to fail her and she darted off in the opposite direction. She didn’t go too far though, and was still very intrigued by these other two leopards in her territory. The Piva male and the Mashaba female both emerged from the tree they were under and went straight to the spot where the Nkoveni female had been. They both sniffed at the soil and seemed to be working out who this newcomer was that was intruding. It almost seemed as if they both accepted who it was and weren’t fazed at all. Both have a history with the Nkoveni female; the Mashaba female being her mother, and the Piva male is the likely father of her unborn cubs, as they were seen mating a few months ago.
There wasn’t much aggression between any of the leopard; it was almost as if the two females realised who each other were and accepted it was the edge of their territories. There was some growling every now and then, but certainly nothing serious. Both females would regularly scent mark in order to show a bit of dominance to that territory, but never came to blows in any way.
Not only was it incredible to see three leopards together, but it was really interesting behaviour between the three, especially knowing the connections between the animals. I’ve always wondered to myself if leopards will remember each other, especially mothers and cubs, and after this encounter I’m pretty certain they do. The next question I ask myself though, is this recognition through scent or through sight, or could it be both, or even something of which we’re not aware?