Londolozi has one of the densest leopard populations in the world.
With prime habitat, ample prey species and essentially zero human interference, the local cats carry on as if we weren’t here. Their territorial habits mean that we are fortunate enough to observe the same individuals over many years sometimes – particularly the females – and working here as a ranger for more than a year means that you start becoming familiar with the who’s who of the population.
So when an unfamiliar face pops up, it causes quite a bit of excitement, as everyone starts speculating as to how the new arrival may affect the dynamic.
The most recent new face on Londolozi is a smaller one than we’d have expected:
It is a young leopard that has wandered in from the west of the Sabi Sand Reserve, known as the Misava male.
Born to the Hlabankunzi female (who died earlier this year), this young male seems far too small to be exploring new territory, and he needs to keep the lowest profile possible to avoid a possibly life-threatening altercation with the much larger Flat Rock male, whose territory he finds himself in. We are used to seeing substantially larger transient males move through the area, and in fact when this male was first seen, he was mistaken for one of the Nhlanguleni female’s cubs!
When a male leopard becomes independent, he will generally attempt to persist in his father’s territory for as long as possible as he increases in size. Eventually, his father will recognise his son as becoming a potential threat to him, and will force him out of the territory before the two males become evenly matched.
That is more of a guideline for leopards than a rule, as we’ve seen strange behaviour before, and at the moment the Ndzanzeni young male is mating with the Mashaba female, right in the middle of his father the Inyathini male’s territory. So there are always exceptions.
Whatever the case, the Misava male is much further from the protective umbrella of his father’s territory than he should be.
He has been spending time very close to the Londolozi airstrip, but hasn’t been having much hunting success, as on each occasion he’s been found his belly has been looking very empty.
A young leopard like this will still be subsisting largely on smaller prey species like mongooses and scrub hares; larger game like impalas certainly aren’t out of the question for him, but as an inexperienced hunter he will both struggle to bring them down and – almost more importantly – struggle to hoist them.
With the hyena population so healthy at the moment, any kills the Misava male is likely to make that he can’t get into the boughs of a tree, he is likely to lose!
We’ve had transient young males come through Londolozi before, but they invariably leave shortly after they realise the area is already occupied. It won’t be too long before the Misava young male realises exactly that, and at his size, there is no way he will be able to take on a big territorial male.
His best bet for now is to simply head back to where he came from and eke it out for another year or so. We’ll look out for him then…