The Mashaba female leopard is apparently heavily pregnant again.
I haven’t seen her myself in a couple of weeks, but reports from rangers in the field state that she may give birth any day, so full-bellied is she looking. Before anyone asks if she might not simply be full-bellied with impala lambs, there is a distinct difference between a leopardess that has gorged herself and one that is heavily pregnant, and the Mashaba female is definitely the latter.
For those who follow our daily stories, you may well realise that this is a remarkably fast turnaround time for a leopard to have cubs again. In actual fact it would be almost impossible for it to be any faster. Gestation in leopards is round about 100 days, give or take a few, and Rob Jefferey’s recent post about an incredible sighting on foot of the Mashaba female and Flat Rock male mating towards the end of September sets the pregnancy at just under 3 months so far.
The turnaround time we are talking about of course, is the time since she lost her last litter, which was the beginning of September, when the nomadic Ndzanzeni young male found where she was stashing her litter of 3, way down south in the Maxabene riverbed.
For a leopard to lose her cubs, come into oestrus again and then fall pregnant once more in such a short space of time is pretty good going. It’s certainly not impossible, and these animals are physiologically programmed to be able to do that, but it doesn’t happen all that often. The shortest time I’ve seen a female replace a litter in was four months, almost to the day, when the Tutlwa female (incidentally the older sister of the Mashaba female from a different litter), gave birth to a litter in the Sand River exactly four months after she had lost her previous cub.
Anyway, back to the present day.
When the Tamboti female died earlier this year, it looked like the Mashaba female was going to push south to try and claim some of the territory that was now up for grabs along the Maxabene river, and being the biggest female we see on Londolozi, it looked like she wouldn’t have much trouble.
However, since the loss of that last litter, sightings of her have been far more frequent in the northern reaches of her territory, and her forays into the south far more irregular.
Her old haunts in the riverbed systems to the south and west of camp, particularly around the Winnis’ and Mbabala Dongas (along and to the left of the three blue dots in a row on the map) are once again ringing to the bark of the bushbuck and nyala that hang around in the thicket lines.
So the real question on everybody’s lips is where is she going to give birth?.
The map above indicates 5 pevious den sites she has used:
- Mhangeni Double Crossing. The fact that this site now falls firmly within the territory of the Nhlanguleni female who is raising a litter of two makes it very unlikely that the Mashaba female will us it. She seems to have relinquished control of this part of her old territory to the Nhlanguleni female.
- Bushbuck Crossing. A small debris cluster from a previous flood was the site of a birth of an unseen litter. This was right around the time that the Flat Rock male first moved into the area, and we believe he killed that litter.
- Mbabala Donga Boulders. A couple of massive rocks wit an accompanying termite mound has been used a couple of times by the female. Nestled amongst a thick stand of Tamboti trees, this den has a large crack between two of the largest boulders that the cubs generally hide in.
- Boulders off Track West of Mbabala Donga. Another den used a few times by the Mashaba female. This boulder cluster has a few hiding places, but one particular one overhung by a vicious Buffalo thorn has been her choice hiding spot in previous litters.
- Maxabene Riverbed. This is the site at which the Ndzanzeni young male killed her last litter. We have had very few sightings of her in this area in the last couple of months, and it is doubtful she will den tHis far south again.
Personally I feel she will make use of the rocky site of Mbabala Donga again; it’s a place she’s used a couple of times before and I think a couple of the rangers agree on this call. Given her current movements, which have been centred on the Mbabala drainage system, it seems logical that she will use a tried and tested site. But then, how much does “logic” play a role in a leopard’s world?
That’s the subject of a whole ‘nother debate. For now simply leave your opinions below as to where you think the female may have cubs.