Leopards are solitary animals. This is a fact, or so we think.
This is what will be said about leopards in most reference books. They will tell you that majority of the time when one sees leopards they will be on their own, unless its a female with her cubs, a male and female mating or by chance two leopards meeting over a territorial dispute. This seems to hold true for most of the time, and in my experience it most certainly is. But there have a few instances over the past couple of months at Londolozi that have made me question how much we really know about leopards and their behaviour.
The instances I speak of involve three individuals in particular; the Inyathini male, Ndzanzeni female and her male cub. On a few occasions over the past few months we have witnessed the three of these leopards together and – not just by chance – actually spending time together with no aggression. I was fortunate enough to be witness to their last encounter.
I received a call from Alistair Smith on the radio to say he had found Ndzanzeni and her cub. We were nearvy and decided to join him with these two beautiful creatures. Whilst we were heading there I received another call from Al to say they could hear a male calling not far away. This sent the excitement even higher as I thought there may be a chance the leopards could all join up. In my mind I was hoping it was the Inyathini male calling and I was really hoping to witness the interaction that other rangers and trackers had seen before. As we arrived in the sighting we saw the mother and her cub lying in the shade, and right next to them was the Inyathini male; he had just arrived as well. I absolutely love seeing leopards, it never gets old, but to see a male and female relaxing with their cub was definitely a first for me.
I was really intrigued as to what would play out and how the Inyathini male would behave around the female and her cub. We watched for a while as the trio got comfortable with each other without too much interaction.
Thats when things got even more interesting. The male decided to get up and move off on a territorial patrol. I did not expect the other two to follow, but they did. He walked about 15 metres in front of them, scent marking and calling along his way, with the other two just strolling along behind him. It was fascinating behaviour to watch. One of the most interesting things was that the Inyathini male seemed to wait for the other two when they strayed too far behind. He would stop, turn back almost as if to say, “Are you coming?”
It was certainly one of the most incredible sightings I’ve ever had. We had the privilege of following them for about 30 minutes until they disappeared into thick bush. I can’t wait to see how the relationship plays out and if this become more frequent behaviour.
Could other leopards in the area start doing it as well?
We often joke by saying that the animals out here don’t read the same books we do, surprising us everyday with new behaviours; these three certainly didn’t read the chapter on leopards being solitary.