Nothing happens in isolation in the bush. Every incident has a knock-on effect, either sizeable or insignificant, from a tree being pushed over by an elephant to the takeover of a pride by a new coalition. The ramifications stemming from the recent death of the Piva male leopard are likely to redirect the course of the leopard dynamics of Londolozi for some time to come.
The gaping hole in the NE corner of central Londolozi (refer to map) left vacant since his death has yet to have a male leopard move in to claim it, and this happens to be the area that the Nkoveni female and her two 7 month-old cubs are currently inhabiting. To the west resides the Mashaba female and her new litter (younger than two months), whilst to the south the Tamboti female is currently raising a litter of two (around four months old). These are the three litters that would be under the most threat should a new male move in.
Since it’s usually very difficult to establish exactly who the father of leopard cubs is, as the females often mate with more than one male, it’s impossible to say for certain that the Piva male did in fact father any of the above litters. If we put genetics aside for the moment, the real issue at stake is how much time he spent with any of the respective litters, and vice versa. What’s critical when it comes to the male leopard-cub relationship is the the males think they’re the father. Let’s go through it litter by litter.
The Mashaba female has pushed her territory west in recent months, and has recently birthed a litter near the Sand River. Still almost unseen, the cubs are being hidden in a rocky donga, and initial reports confirm that there are three of them, but sightings are hard to come by. The westward territorial shift of the female has placed her territory almost entirely within that of the Flat Rock male, essentially nullifying the death of the Piva male in the context of protecting her cubs. Although she mated with both the Piva and Inyathini males as well as the Flat Rock male, the cubs’ survival is more than likely set to be determined by the Flat Rock male simply maintaining his hold on his current territory, and the arrival of a new male, should it occur, will hopefully have little bearing on the litters’ chances.
The Nkoveni cubs have up until now existed in a territory that was patrolled exclusively by the Piva male. Although we have had reports of the Senegal Bush male from Mala Mala in the Sand River near the cubs, for the most part it was only the Piva male who the two cubs would have ever encountered. The Flat Rock male, although occupying an area close by, and although having mated with the Nkoveni female before she gave birth, has had no contact with the litter as far as we are aware. Considering the confusion of leopard paternity, we cannot say for sure that the Flat Rock male isn’t the father of the cubs, but given his (apparent) lack of contact with them, in all likelihood he would be aggressive towards them should they meet. I don’t know to what extent male leopards can remember which females they mated with. I could well be wrong here (I hope I am) and a meeting could be a relatively peaceful affair, but I don’t hold high hopes for the Flat Rock male’s reaction towards the Nkoveni female’s litter. However, if we are optimistic, and this does come to pass, an eastward expansion by him along the Sand River would be the best thing for all three litters that have been placed in jeopardy by the Piva male’s untimely demise, should he be accepting of the Nkoveni female’s cubs.
The Tamboti female’s cubs fall somewhere between those of the Nkoveni and Mashaba female’s in the extent to which they may be affected by the Piva male’s death. Since the beginning of the year the Inyathini male (the most likely father) has expanded his territory further and further north, and now patrols almost the entire length of the Maxabene river; an area that was previously the Piva male’s domain. Only a small portion of the Tamboti female’s territory lies outside the Inyathini male’s territory, and it is this grey area which may impact her and the cubs should a new male move in to fill it.
Have a look at the map below to see the respective males’ rough territories at the time of the Piva males death:
Just NE of the Piva male’s old territory (top right of map, near compass) resides the Senegal Bush male/Kunyuma male, who moved in from the north a year or so ago. Although we don’t have intimate knowledge of the full extent of his territory, it is more than likely that he is also occupying that blank space in the far NE corner of Londolozi, to the east of the Anderson males’ territory. His moving in to claim the pink section would most likely be a death sentence to the Nkoveni female’s cubs. So as great as it would be to have a new face featured amongst the territorial male leopards, let’s hope that doesn’t happen for now.
If there is to be the least impact on any of the litters currently being raised by the female leopards in the eastern section of Londolozi, the best thing that could happen is that the Flat Rock male simply expands his territory east along the river, essentially encompassing the territory of the Nkoveni female’s within his. If this happens there is the off chance that he may accept the cubs as his own.
If the Inyathini male moves slightly north at the same time, fully enveloping the Tamboti female’s territory, her cubs would also be afforded the best chance of survival:
I know there are an enormous number of “what ifs” posed here. I guess that’s almost all we can ever really get from such a dynamic system as the bushveld, and the chances of them all panning out exactly as we hope they will are about as high as those of Conor Mcgregor lasting the full twelve, but until we see a male actually traversing the clearings and riverine woodland to the east of camp, all we are left with is this optimistic speculation.
Without trying to overdramatise the situation, the lives of seven leopard cubs genuinely do hang in the balance here. Let’s hope we can still be at 7-0 in a year’s time…