Early 2016 was quite simply a ridiculous time to see leopard cubs on Londolozi.
At one point the Nhlanguleni female was the only territorial female on the reserve to not be raising a litter. The Sand River in particular from about two kilometres west of camp to our eastern boundary was cub central, and had three litters being raised along it, with the Mashaba, Nkoveni and Xidulu females all caring for their cubs within relatively small territories.
Something like 14 or 15 cubs between 7 or 8 females meant that if you saw a female leopard and she didn’t have cubs with her, you were unlucky! Sworn testimony from some of Londolozi’s most experienced trackers like Elmon Mhlongo and Judas Ngomane says that at no time can they remember the reseve being that productive for leopard cub viewing. Ever.
But as we come to accept fairly quickly, the state of things can change, almost overnight, and we currently find ourselves at at a point that’s not quite square one, but almost. Some of the 2016 litters didn’t make it. A few did. Many females are now mating again or are suspected to have birthed new litters. Let’s run through a couple.
An unidentified female leopard was seen with suckle marks in the Sand River near Taylor’s Crossing.
That’s right on the western edge of Londolozi, and going on territory alone, it was more than likely the Nhlanguleni female. She was seen at the end of last year with a very young cub (which hasn’t been seen since), but we are still within the time frame in which it is possible that the cubs is not yet weaned. Either that or the mother has birthed a new litter. This latter scenario is unlikely, as the turn-around time is too short. The fastest I’ve seen a female lose a litter, fall pregnant again and give birth was four months (the Tutlwa female), so to expect a turn-around time of a month less than that would probably be expecting too much. Their pregnancies are only about three months, but after losing a litter it takes the females a few weeks to come back into oestrus, then they need to find a male to mate with, and even after copulation they may not fall pregnant. I think it’s far more likely that the Nhlanguleni female still has that original cub and it is still nursing. Either that or it wasn’t the Nhlanguleni female that was seen. If not then who?
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.
Well, the Mashaba female we suspect may also have given birth somewhere along the Sand River to the west of camp. Whilst to our knowledge her territory doesn’t extend as far as Taylor’s Crossing, it gets relatively close, and if she has given birth recently she may be wanting to push her territorial borders just that little bit further westwards to provide a buffer between her new litter and any neighbouring females.
The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best-known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the vehicles.
The Nkoveni female meanwhile has also been reported with suckle marks. She has been flying below the radar of late, and sightings of her have been hard to come by. One of the mainstays of Londolozi’s leoaprd viewing – purely because her territory lies close to the camps – we have experienced a dearth of sightings over the last couple of months, which may well be linked to her pregnancy. Her last litter was sadly killed by the Flat Rock male, as he moved east to take up space left open by the Piva male’s death, but as the pair have been seen mating since then, this latest litter, should the cubs survive, would be safe from him.
One other contributing factor to the Nkoveni female not being seen is the continued incursion of the Senegal Bush male (also known as the Kunyuma male), who has come in from the north of the Sand River, where he holds territory around Stwise and Poliwe koppies on Mala Mala. He has been seen south of the river on a number of occasions, and it is more than likely that the Nkoveni female has been crossing the river into his territory in an attempt to placate any future aggression towards a litter that may well not be his.
Many times in the past we have seen a female leopard mating, then seen signs that she is pregnant, then suckle marks that prove she has given birth, but even then we may still not see the litter. The first few weeks of a leopard cub’s life are incredibly fragile, so we aren’t holding our collective breaths here. We certainly aren’t expecting anything like the period of early 2016 when it comes to cubs, especially because a couple of females are still successfully raising their offspring from that time (Tamboti and Tatowa females)
The Tatowa female was one of a litter of three females born in early 2012 to the Ximpalapala female of the north.
The Tamboti female inhabited the south-eastern sections of Londolozi, having a large part of her territory along the Maxabene Riverbed.
Having said that, the leopard viewing, cubs aside, has never been better. With the Nanga young female, Ndzanzeni young male and newly named Ximungwe female all independent and roaming all over the show, the Tamboti and Tatowa cubs most likely becoming independent this year, and a few new litters in the offing, Londolozi continues to be one of the best leopard viewing destinations in the world.