Quite often with animal species out here, the male of the kind is more territorial than the female. This is true of rhino, hippo and impala just to name a few. One animal this is not true of however is a leopard and I had an amazing sighting a few weeks ago to prove it.
My guests and I set out to look for the Mashaba young female who had three kills stashed in three separate trees, something she managed to achieve during the first heavy rains of the season. Upon arriving at the Marula tree where the remains of her last kill hung from the tree, we were met with a female leopard that was feeding. As she lifted her head to look at us though, tracker Jerry Hambana and I shared startled expressions. This wasn’t the leopard we were expecting to find at all. The leopard in front of us was the Tatowa female.
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
The Tatowa female was one of a litter of three females born in early 2012 to the Ximpalapala female of the north.
The Tatowa female is a good three years the Mashaba young female’s senior and our first assessment of the situation was that she had managed to bully the younger female off her kill. After about half an hour of feeding though, she lifted her head and glanced around nervously, then swiftly descended the tree and started southwards. Not ten seconds later did the Mashaba young female appear, apparently having been watching this injustice from a thicket nearby.
Instead of allowing the Tatowa female to get away with it though, the Mashaba young female took chase, forcing the Tatowa female to scale high into the boughs of a Marula tree, where she moved about from spindly branch to spindly branch, hissing at the younger female below her.
The Mashaba young female showed no signs of backing off. In fact she paced backwards and forwards at the base of the tree, scent marking the ground and salivating heavily. At one point she even let out the typically guttural territorial call. After pacing for a while, she turned and started making her way back to her kill, in all likelihood hoping to finish off the last of the scraps in peace.
The Tatowa female soon descended after her and funnily enough walked from scent mark to scent mark, leaving her urine on top of the Mashaba young female’s as a show of dominance. She let out a territorial call of her own, which only enraged the younger female, causing her to run from her kill and charge in at the Tatowa female once more.
On this occasion, the charge was enough to scare the older female off, who headed towards a waterhole nearby before disappearing into some dense cover and continuing southwards towards the core of her territory.
Check out the incredible footage below of what can happen when all the typical intimidation tactics I have described above don’t work to deter either of the opponents. Here the Mashaba female and Tutlwa female take each other on in a full scale fight.
For me, I was not so intrigued by the fact that the Tatowa and Mashaba young females were having a territorial tussle but rather by the strength of fight the Mashaba young female was putting up. Despite being only two and a half years old, she was showing signs of attempting to establish her territory and was not standing to be bullied off her kills. As the Mashaba, Hlanguleni and Nkoveni females continue to dominate the areas surrounding the Londolozi camps and the Sand River on either side of it, the Mashaba young female seems to be choosing to head south instead of north, an interesting choice with the current lack of leopard competition in the north.
The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the camps and vehicles.
Born to the Tutlwa female in early-mid 2011, the Nhlanguleni female spent her formative months (and years) in and around the Sand River.
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.
As always it seems that time will tell what will become of this dispute between the Mashaba young female and the Tatowa female but one thing it has shown us for sure is that you should never rule out the underdog in any fight.