Due to the amazing quality of leopard viewing here at Londolozi, we are given the opportunity to witness some fascinating behaviour. Not all behaviours are to our liking of course, and observing leopards over extended periods of time comes with some heartache. Infanticide, the killing of cubs, in leopards remains the highest cause of deaths in cubs and accounts for almost one third of all juvenile mortalities. Males will practice this behaviour in order to increase their chances of mating with that female thereby siring cubs with her. This blog is not meant to dwell on this fact but rather to explain how a mother leopard will react if her cubs are killed or threatened by a rival male.
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.
A leopard who took advantage of the death of the 4:4 male in 2016 to grab territory to the west of the Londolozi camps.
On the 20th of September, the Flat rock male killed one of the Nkoveni female’s cubs. This is a direct result of the Piva male’s death recently. The territory that he once occupied along the river, to the east of camp, is now without a dominant male. This happens to be where the Nkoveni female resides with her cubs. She had made a kill and had it hoisted in a tree when the Flat rock male unfortunately came across the three of them. It was then that he killed one of the cubs.
Once the Flat rock male had eaten from the impala, he moved off with the Nkoveni female trailing him very closely. She stuck with him for five days and followed him all the way into Singita (which lies to the west of us) and back again, before finally returning to her second cub. During this time she mated with him very regularly. On returning to the cub six days later, she went off to make a kill and then led the cub to the carcass to feed. You may be asking yourself why she would leave the second cub for such a long period after such an ordeal. The Nkoveni female was in fact trying to protect her second cub. Firstly, by distracting the Flat rock male from seeking the cub out and secondly, possibly tricking him into believing in the future that she may be his.
Let me explain…
When a female leopard is in oestrus (ready to mate), she may mate with more than one male in order to try and secure the future of her cubs through more than one male. But the Nkoveni female is not in oestrus and this leads us to believe that leopards enter into a state known as false oestrus. This is a tactic that has evolved as a defence mechanism the female can use to distract a male that has killed or threatened her current cubs. If the remaining cubs are of the right age and he does not see them for an extended period of time after the mating session, then there will be a chance that he may believe that the cubs are in fact his.
Whether or not the cub is too old for the Flat rock male to ever think that he fathered her remains to be seen. For now the behaviour that the Nkoveni female displayed has given her young cub a chance at survival.
To date she has shown very strong mothering capabilities and was unlucky to lose her first cub. It’s shown me again, the incredible lengths a mother will go to protect her young and, if at all possible, has increased my level of respect for these beautiful cats.