Reports of not one but two leopards from the previous evening had led us to the banks of the dry Maxabene riverbed for our morning pursuit. Knowing all too well that hyenas may have stolen the impala ram kill that the leopards were feeding off on the ground, I was secretly just hoping that we would find one leopard at best. Tracker Bennet stopped me – leopard tracks. Hyena tracks too… The evidence was all pointing to the leopards having lost the kill. And they had – ranger John Mohaud soon confirmed this. I thought the worst – the leopards had probably split up and gone their separate ways.
Off we set following the tracks, which conveniently had been left all along the road. Upon closer inspection, the male and female had been walking side by side, judging by the size of the tracks. “Great!”, I thought to myself… Maybe the pair of leopards had stuck together after all, possibly falling head over paws for each other for a few days as the female goes through her oestrus cycle.
“Stations, audio of what sounds like a pair of leopards off Inyathini South, west of Hobbit’s Hole road,” called Bruce Arnott over the radio. My heart skipped a beat – this was less than 200m in front of us. The tracks that we were busy following were leading in a straight line towards the sound Bruce had heard. I put my foot down and within seconds found ourselves next to Bruce. A quick discussion and we both turned off the road towards a drainage line – a perfect place for a pair of leopards to be as the morning heats up.
And there they were… A brief yet exciting track-and-find.
But wait – there were more. Three leopards! As we called it in on the radio, a fourth leopard joined the scene! Aren’t leopards supposed to be solitary? Clearly not today.
The Inyathini male, Mashaba female, Three rivers female and Ndzanzeni young male. All sitting next to each other looking at us. Not a bad way to start the day!
This is an incredibly unusual scene to come across. The Inyathini male is the father of the Ndzanzeni young male, hence a possibility as to why the young male was being tolerated. Size-wise, the Inyathini male still triumphs over his son, so maybe the father did not feel too threatened. However, the Ndzanzeni young male is no small leopard anymore and will likely be pushed away from his father’s territory any day now, particularly if he starts competing for mating access with females. With the Inyathini male’s territory covering most of the southern section of Londolozi, it is unlikely that father and son have encountered each other all that often, possibly why the Ndzanzeni young male has not yet fully dispersed.
The two females were not as happy with each other’s presence as the males were. The guttural growls were quite bone chilling. Rightly so, as they are two completely unrelated leopards. This means that they have no shared genes and are therefore competing with each other to continue their respective genetic lineages.
During my time at the sighting, the Mashaba female – markedly bigger than the Three Rivers female – mated with the Inyathini male several times. Interestingly, each time the Three Rivers female approached the Inyathini male, he would growl at her – as would the Mashaba female. The Ndzanzeni young male was seen mounting the Mashaba female later on in the morning, however ranger Greg Pingo tells me he is uncertain whether any insemination occurred or not as the female’s response was extremely passive, a completely different reaction to when she mated with the Inyathini male.
A lot of growling and scent marking occurred between the two females the entire time. The Mashaba female was acting particularly aggressively, hissing and snarling each time the younger female moved – quite often trying to position herself between the Inyathini male and the Three Rivers female.
It may be a bit confusing to follow what was happening between the four leopards, but a few points can be extracted from this meeting:
- The Mashaba female has sadly, definitely lost her litter of cubs born over Christmas.
- The Mashaba female is extending her territory out of the area west of the Londolozi camps and pushing into new males’ and other females’ territories further in the south-east.
- The Three Rivers female is trying to establish territory on Londolozi in the areas that were previously occupied by the deceased Tamboti female.
- The Ndzanzeni young male is trying to mate and will surely be seen establishing a territory of his own soon. Whether this be over part of his father’s territory (unlikely due to the risk of inbreeding with related females) or not only time will tell.
There have been cases of father and son mating with the same female at the same time before on Londolozi. These so-called solitary leopards never cease to amaze us here. Who knows what goes on during the hours and hours that we are not with these creatures…?
Another leopard who originated in the Kruger National Park, he has established a large territory in the south eastern areas of Londolozi.
The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best-known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the vehicles.