The last time a leopard on Londolozi successfully raised two cubs was in 2012, when the Tutlwa female’s 2011 litter (including the Nhlanguleni female) was pushed into full independence. The recently deceased Xidulu female occupies a grey area here, in that two of her cubs were alive at 14 moths old at the time of her death recently, (although the male cub has not been seen for some time), but for argument’s sake we won’t include her.
The brother of the Tu-Tones male from the same litter, the Makhotini male has had a far more successful life.
Since that 2011 Tutlwa litter, although a number of cubs have been reared successfully by their mothers, they have only ever been single leopards, unless my memory is playing me false. The Maxabene female raised the Makhotini and Tu-Tones males from her 2008 litter, the Nyelethi female’s 2009 litter of three all survived (a very rare thing in this area, and indeed anywhere), but since then it has only been the Tutlwa female to raise more than one cub from a litter. And even then we weren’t able to enjoy spectacular viewing of them, as both male and female cubs were very skittish. The male eventually moved off, but thankfully the female stuck around and is now far more relaxed. She was renamed the Nhlanguleni female (the Shangaan word for Gwarrie trees) after a road that she was first seen scent-marking on.
Initially skittish she spent a lot of time in the Sand River, now relaxed she makes up the majority of leopard viewing west of camp.
The Island, Nkoveni and Tatowa females were all the only survivors from litters of two or three. The Ndzanzeni female was born as a single cub. The Vomba young male made it to independence but was also born as a single cub. The Nanga female’s first litter had a surviving male that was forced into early independence (aged 11 months) after she gave birth again, but he disappeared sadly and is presumed dead.
Looking back to 2011, the statistics don’t make for happy reading. More than 40 (!) cubs have been born to Londolozi’s female leopards over this period – and that’s just from a quick count; there were probably closer to 50, if not more – and less than 10 of those have survived to independence. This is not to say that anything untoward is happening. It is well documented that leopard cubs have a very high mortality rate, especially in a predator rich area like the Sabi Sands, and taking the emotion out of it, the low survival rate of the cubs is almost textbook.
A dominant male leopard over the majority of the north. He originally took over the 4:4 Male's territory when he died.
It seems like we are overdue for a female to raise two cubs to full independence..
Now for the positives. The Nkoveni, Tamboti and Tatowa females are all raising litters of two, and the Mashaba female is also secreting cubs somewhere in the Sand River, although no one has yet seen the litter so we don’t know how many there are. The Nkoveni female’s cubs are around 6 months old, the Tamboti female’s are approaching four months, and the Tatowa female’s are a little older than that. These three litters, although still a long way from that magical age of twelve months at which mortality rate drops off exponentially, are nevertheless the current hopes that we have for seeing a female raise more than one cub.
The daughter of Sunsetbend female, is named Xidulu which means termite mound in Shangaan.
The even better news is that all three females are raising their offspring in areas that currently lie within a stable male population. Although paternity is difficult to determine in leopard cubs, since the females often mate with multiple males, the Piva and Inyathini males are the suspected fathers of the Tamboti and Tatowa litters, whilst the Nkoveni female’s cubs were most likely fathered by the Piva or Flat rock male. Or both. With male leopards being the biggest cause of mortality to young cubs (they will kill cubs that aren’t their own), the current state of relative homeostasis is likely to give the cubs their best chance of survival.
It can be frustrating to have new questions posed everyday, and have the whole of these leopards’ lives based almost entirely on speculation. With nothing certain though, it seems that Nature has programmed her own incredible drama to unfold in front of us, and with sure knowledge, I can almost guarantee we wouldn’t find it all quite as fascinating and enthralling as we do. It’s an outside chance, but hopefully just over a year from now we will be posting about the six newly independent leopards of Londolozi…