The regularity with which female leopards feature in the Londolozi sightings book is linked to two main factors as far as I can tell: whether they have cubs and the amount of lion activity in the area.
The cubs one is obvious, as a female instantly leaps up the high-profile ladder if she has a litter, but the lion one is less so. Despite imagining that having a pride very active within a leopard’s territory might force it to go to ground more, I think the simple fact that the lions are there draws more rangers and trackers into the area, by default bringing more eyes and ears to bear on that section of the reserve.
Since lions are generally significantly easier to track than leopards, more time is usually invested in a lion tracking session, which, also by default, means more trackers on the ground for longer, whose ears will hear the faintest bushbuck alarm call or leopard’s territorial rasp, thus resulting in more leopard’s being found.
I mention all of this to shine a light on the Nkoveni female, and the fact that we haven’t been seeing all that much of her of late.
During the first half of 2017 when she was raising two cubs, she was probably found on 75% of the game drives, and actively searched for on about 90% of them. Her small territory was relatively easy to cover effectively between a couple of vehicles, and knowing her favourite dens and secluded locations to stash her cubs, we were usually able to track her down without too much trouble.
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.
This year has been slightly different.
The Nkoveni female has been seen a couple of times recently with fresh suckle marks, indicating that she certainly has cubs stashed away somewhere, but the superb lion viewing further to the south in the form of the Birmingham males and Ntsevu pride has drawn the attention away from the area in which this leopardess usually patrols. It is the Tamboti female who has instead been making up the bulk of our female leopard viewing, in the same areas that we have been finding the lions; vehicles looking for the pride or coalition will regularly bump into her on the hunt, as she attempts to catch food for her and her ever-growing cub.
The Nkoveni female meanwhile, has been staying below the radar, which I’m sure suits her just fine.
It has been about a month now since she was first viewed with suckle-marks, and she has been one to move dens fairly frequently in the past. The good late rains we’ve experienced have made tracking her through the thickets a difficult task, and the chances are hight that – like before – she has given birth in the Sand River, somewhere in one of its innumerable debris piles.
The fact that lion activity in her territory is of course a direct blessing, as the Tsalala Pride in particular have accounted for a fair number of leopard deaths in the past.
For now It’s simply a waiting game, to see who the lucky ranger will be that finds her and her litter first.