The surviving cub of the Nanga female leopard was killed by lions this morning.
Wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time seems to happen far too regularly for this female, and on the banks of the Manyelethi riverbed she accidentally led the cub straight past where the beleaguered Tsalala pride was lying.
Catching sight of the two leopards, the young lioness from the pride made a stealthy approach, eventually charging in right in front of the horrified eyes of ranger Alfie Mathebula, tracker Terrence Mahlaba and their horrified guests.
Terrence had been tracking the Nanga female in the Manyelethi, and hearing monkeys alarming, had sped up along the bank, eventually closing to a point from which he caught sight of the leopards about 100m in front of him.
Radioing Alfie that he had successfully found them, he moved back to the nearest road on which Alfie could collect him on the way to establishing the sighting. As he climbed onto the vehicle and they moved towards the last place Terrence had seen the leopards, Terrence suddenly caught sight of the ominous tawny shapes of lions lying close by in the river sand, and the lions had already seen the leopards!
The tragedy played out within seconds; a careful stalk by the lioness, a sudden rush, and the Nanga female only hearing the lion coming at the last second. The adult leopard, having been caught like this before, managed to make good her escape, but the small cub, barely two months old, was not quick enough and was caught and killed.
Just as we were celebrating the Nanga female finally rearing a cub to independence and now starting again, tragedy strikes once more.
That stretch of the Manyelethi seems to be ill-fated for leopard cubs, with the Tutlwa female losing her litter of three to the Marthly male only a few hundred metres away back in 2015. The 5:5 male also lost his life close by, and he was also killed by the Tsalala pride! And just over the hill, the Nanga female had a litter of a few years ago killed by the Tutlwa female herself.
That small section of the property is beginning to look like the Bermuda triangle for leopards; cubs in particular.
The Nanga female was born to the Nyelethi 4:4 female in 2009 as part of a litter of three.
An enigmatic female not often encountered, this leopard lives to the north of the Sand River.
Incredibly, the 5:5 male was adopted as a cub by his grandmother, the 3:4 female, and raised by her to adulthood.
While we’re on the subject, the Tutlwa female, mentioned earlier, was – we strongly suspect – yet another Tsalala Pride victim. And one of the Nanga female’s first cubs was killed by the Tsalala pride on a giraffe carcass! Those names all seem intertwined in an ill-fated way.
This is no dramatic novel, however. It is just the saga of rival, territorial predators co-existing in the same area. Tragic for us, normal life for them.
As unemotional as it may sound, the Nanga female’s body will respond quickly to the loss of her cub. No longer lactating, her hormonal response will be to fall back into pre-oestrus, a condition in which she is ready to reproduce. She will scent mark on bushes, pheromones in her urine letting the males know that she is once again ready to mate. She will call in the still morning air, advertising her presence to these same males.
They will find her, she will mate, and the cycle will begin again.
That is how I feel. Sweet little one.