Half a decade sounds like quite a long time, although it’s only five years. For a leopard, however, that period of time represents roughly a third of its life it is to live to full maturity, and in its formative years especially, the changes can be huge.
The shift from cub to young and independent individual and then to full-blown territorial adult can all take place over this timeframe, and today if we look back exactly half a decade, we find ranger James Hobson’s post on one of Londolozi’s most prominent leopards, the Mashaba female.
She had just reached territorial independence, and having spent much of her time around the Mashaba drainage, scent marking and vocalising, was named accordingly. In wonderful synchronicity, this drainage was one where the original Mother Leopard used to patrol occasionally, and so it is fitting that the current dominant female around the camps should be named after this landscape feature.
As time marches on, so do leopard territories shift, and I don’t think anyone has seen her near the Mashaba drainage for the last two years. That area is currently forming a territorial boundary between the Xidulu female who has pushed in from the east, and the Nkoveni female (daughter of the Mashaba female), whose territory has become somewhat compressed of late. The female leopards currently occupying riverfront territory on the southern bank of the Sand River are in fact all descendants of the Sunset Bend female
The larger Mashaba female however has had no such pressure from rivals, and her territory has remained relatively constant, with her patrol route stretching from the Mhangeni drainage in the west (where she borders on the territory of the Nhlanguleni female), and the Vomba drainage (her mother’s namesake) to the east.
At the time of James’ post in 2012, the Mashaba female had yet to be seen mating, and now five years later she is looking to produce her sixth litter of cubs. As is the lot of female leopards in the wild, most of their cubs do not survive their first year, and so far the Mashaba female has only managed to raise two individuals to independence; the Nkoveni female and the Mashaba young female from two litters ago (born in May 2015). Her last litter was killed before they were viewed, we suspect by the Flat Rock male who was newly arrived in the area and was seen sniffing around very close to where we believed the tiny cubs were being denned at the time.
The Flat Rock male seems to be well established for the moment, and has been seen mating with the Mashaba female on a number of occasions, so with any luck she may be giving birth again within a few months. A recent mating bout with the Piva male as well should hopefully confuse the paternity enough so that both these territorial males should believe they are the fathers of the litter.
At the age of nine, the Mashaba female will shortly be entering her senior years, but should remain fertile for a good while. Having cubs survive will of course delay periods between births, but seeing the Xidulu female raising a litter of two at the age of 15 means there’s no reason why the Mashaba female shouldn’t be able to get a couple of offspring through to independence, furthering her own lineage and that of the leopards who have come before her.