Just the other day I watched the Tamboti female leopard curl her tail up as she slipped past our vehicle. This could mean any number of things but in that moment I knew that she was doing it to guide her cub with the prominent white tip on her tail’s underside. Leopards, and big cats alike, make use of their tails for a variety of different functions including, expressing mood, state of mind, as a form of communication, a way of strengthening social bonds, displaying irritation or frustration, in mating rituals and for enhanced movement. In this post, I want to help you to interpret and analyse such tail movements and body posture so that when you next see a leopard you’ll be able to tell exactly why it’s doing what it’s doing.
The Tamboti female inhabited the south-eastern sections of Londolozi, having a large part of her territory along the Maxabene Riverbed.
The daughter of Sunsetbend female, is named Xidulu which means termite mound in Shangaan.
Social bonding in leopards:
The best examples I have seen of this recently is with the Nkoveni female and her cub. As the cub moved around its mother, it wrapped its tail around her face before moving off.
This interaction between mother and cub increases the social bond between them and is similar to lions who rub their faces together. It reassures the other of their inherently close relationship and forms a crucial component in the upbringing of these young cubs. It is a way that the cubs, in particular, are able to communicate through the slightest touch of their tail or a flicking action when passing by their mother, expressing affection and strengthening kinship bonds.
A young female that lives to the east and south of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
Assessment of cognitive state or mood:
Just the other day, my guests and I were following the Tamboti female on a hunt. She was spotted by a tree squirrel, who subsequently began alarm calling, giving her position away to any potential prey. Immediately the Tamboti female gave up the hunt and expressed her irritation through some subsequent tail flicks. She then raised her tail high into the air, as if to raise a white flag and let out her rasping call, letting the squirrel know that it could stop alarming as she was no longer trying to hunt.
Through the swift flicking of a tail, a leopard showcases its mood. Another example of this is when a mother irritatedly whips her tail away from a cub as it tries to bite her. Leopards will often flick their tails high into the air creating a circular motion when such instances occur.
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
Sexual behaviour and courtship:
The leopards pictured below are the Tamboti female and Piva male who I saw mating a while back. Mating leopards exhibit a variety of tail movements in order to attract or entice their potential partner to mate. During a mating ritual, a female leopard will circle around her male counterpart, flicking her tail in his face and along the length of his body. Coupled with a growling sound, the female leopard will eventually position herself in front on the male where copulation takes place. Occurring multiple times a day and for a few consecutive days, a female will use her tail as a means of flirting, expressing to the male that she is ready to mate and thereby enticing him from his resting spot.
Directly descended from the original mother leopard and therefore part of the royal lineage of Londolozi.
Leopards have very long, tubular-shaped tails, which are not only important for communication but crucial for their survival too. A few months ago I saw the perfect example of how important a leopard’s tail is for balance when I watched the late Xidulu female leopard and her cubs scale a tree in order to escape some hyenas. Each of their tails shot out at different angles as they compensated for the angle of the tree, their varying weights, the pace that they were moving at and the direction of their movement. Leopards are well known for their ability to pull very heavy carcasses up trees and while their jaws and claws are preoccupied with carrying and climbing, their tails help to steer movement and maintain balance. Their tails also prove useful as a rudder when hunting. This prehensile like tail acts somewhat as an additional limb and allows leopards to increase balance and their ability to turn sharply when chasing prey or playing with one another.
This rangy male was an enigma, arriving on Londolozi in the mid to latter parts of 2014 and staying mainly in the western areas.
Born to the Tutlwa female in early-mid 2011, the Nhlanguleni female spent her formative months (and years) in and around the Sand River.
When you start to really get to know these animals, you realise that there are so many fascinating intricacies to learn about their body language and behaviour. Even just the flick of a tail can allow you deeper into the secretive life of a leopard.