A week ago we saw three adult leopards in the same sighting. The scene resembled something of a soap opera with two sisters (same mother but different litters) competing for the attention of one male. When it comes to solitary animals like leopards, what happens during an interaction like this and what brings them all together in one place?
Well, about a week prior to this, the Flat Rock male had been seen mating with the Nkoveni female. He was, in fact, responsible for killing her cubs a few weeks before that. This may seem crazy that she would tolerate a male that had done this to her offspring, but it is, in fact, typical behaviour. By killing cubs that aren’t his, the male forces the female back into oestrus, allowing him to mate and sire cubs of his own. She, in turn, recognises that he is the dominant male, and is the one she needs to mate with to reproduce again.
A gorgeous female who is found to the east of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
A dominant male leopard over the majority of the north. He originally took over the 4:4 Male's territory when he died.
Her younger sister, the Mashaba young female, was then found a few mornings later mating with the Flat Rock male. When leopards mate, they make an unmistakably loud noise, which is what we assume drew the Nkoveni female into the area to investigate. The first reports on the morning that the trio was found was that the Flat Rock male was only interested in the Mashaba Young female, but when I arrived in the sighting, he was mating with the Nkoveni female.
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
During my time with them, the male mated with both females on a number of occasions.
What was really interesting to note was how close the two females got to each other whilst keeping it fairly amicable. Although they showed subtle signs of aggression like snapping or snarling at each other, they were in general quite tolerant. One female would mate then turn and head for the patch of shade that her sister was lying in. That sister would then get up and head towards the male and they’d yo-yo back and forward like this for hours. On a few occasions, the mating would happen with the second female not even moving off at all.
Both females were born to the Mashaba Female (albeit three years apart) and one wonders if this had anything to do with it. Another possible reason is that both of the females were out of their territories somewhat. It is likely that they thus felt less threatened by each other’s presence.
All we know for sure is that you can read as many textbooks as you like but it’s only when you really spend time with these animals that you start to get proper insights into their behaviour.