The history of the Nhlanguleni female leopard is a bit of an up-and-down one, with long periods of no sightings, then a sudden spate of viewing as she appears on a kill, and then another lull when no one sees her for a few weeks.
It is likely, however, that we will be seeing far more of her in the coming weeks and hopefully months, as all signs indicate that she is denning a litter of cubs somewhere in the Sand River, which means that this seldom-seen female will become far more sought-after.
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.
Her last litter (which was also her first) was looking set to be a wonderful success – two out of an initial three cubs were roughly a year old and regularly being taken to kills by their mother – until the untimely death of the 4:4 male, their father and dominant male of the area.
This rangy male was an enigma, arriving on Londolozi in the mid to latter parts of 2014 and staying mainly in the western areas.
A dominant male leopard over the majority of the north. He originally took over the 4:4 Male's territory when he died.
With a blank space on the map, it was only a matter of time before a new male arrived, and it did in the form of the Flat Rock male. Within a few months he had taken over the area west of the Londolozi camps and killed both the Nhlanguleni female’s cubs (as well as the Mashaba female’s new litter). This, sadly, was only to be expected. Although there are recorded cases of a female leopard keeping her offspring out of harm’s way when a new male moves in, just long enough for them to gain independence, it was not to be in this case. Males will try and kill cubs that aren’t theirs, both to bring the female back into oestrus and because they don’t want to contribute to the survival of non-related offspring.
Anyway, that’s in the past. The fact now is that after being seen mating with the Flat Rock male on numerous occasions, as well as with the Anderson male who controls the northern side of the Sand River, the Nhlanguleni female has given birth, as evidenced by suckle marks seen in a recent sighting of her.
It was roughly two months after the birth of the last litter that we first caught sight of the three cubs, but we’re hoping this time we might see them sooner.
Trackers Equalizer Ndlovu and Bennet Mathonsi trailed what they suspected was the Nhlanguleni female upstream in the Sand River yesterday morning, but the tracks disappeared into an impenetrable section, at which point they deemed it prudent to discontinue the search. A female leopard with tiny cubs in thick cover is your worst nightmare to walk into on foot. What the two trackers are pretty convinced of is that it is somewhere in the rocky section of the River that the cubs are being stashed.
Age-wise we suspect them to be anything up to a month, which means that it will still be a month or more before they are brought to kills, but the female is likely to move them every now and then, as dens become a liability if used for too long. This means that she may bring them out of the river, to a densite that a vehicle might be able to access, and we can get our first view of the latest additions to the Leopards of Londolozi…