Most of you familiar with the Leopards of Londolozi will have some idea about the naming process when a leopard becomes territorial.
I use the term “territorial” loosely as territorial behaviour does not necessarily mean that a leopard is actually controlling territory. The rasping calls and scent-marking that are usually involved in demarcating an area usually start long before a young leopard has actually established itself, so I guess the naming process takes place when we observe a certain amount of consistency in the latter two behaviours.
Short version: we pick a territorial feature within the area that the leopard is spending the most time and allocate it to the individual, dropping the prefix “young” from the name altogether. The Xidulu female was often found along a road called Xidulu (meaning “termite mound” in Xitsonga, the local language), the Nanga female was first seen scent marking along Nanga Road, and the Camp Pan male was often found around the small waterbody of that same name during his salad days.
The Ndzanzeni young male has regularly been found mating with the Mashaba female over the past month or two, and as such, it was deemed an appropriate time to recognise the fact that he’s maturing well and ready to be allocated a name.
After a few different ideas were bandied about, the Tracker and Ranger team eventually settled on Tortoise Pan male. Tortoise Pan is a small waterhole in the south-eastern section of Londolozi where a number of sightings of this leopard have been recorded. He has mated with the Mashaba female there, and upon reflection it’s actually ironic that he killed her second-to-last litter last year only a hundred metres from the pan.
Young male leopards tend to be rather amusing animals to spend time with, as they are naturally curious, investigating every funny scent they come across; the roughly 3-year-old age bracket is one in which a young male is likely exploring new territory, having been placed under increasing pressure by his father to move out. Yet we haven’t observed that textbook behaviour from the dominant Inyathini male. Instead, we’ve seen him far more tolerant of his son the Tortoise Pan male, mating together with him. Shades of the Camp Pan and Tu-Tones males from a few years ago.
The dangers of having a young male around of course, is that they are exploratory. They move out, sniff out new parts of the reserve, and the end result – sadly – is that they may well run into young cubs to which they are not related, and kill them.
By far the biggest danger to a young leopard cub is a vagrant male, as the Mashaba female found out last year, and very recently, the male Ximungwe cub was killed by the Tortoise Pan male in a confrontation over a kill. We’ll run a post on this incident in the next week or two, but needless to say as exciting as it can be for us to have a young male leopard popping up all across Londolozi as he embraces his new-found independence, the females currently raising cubs would beg to differ.
With the Tatowa female still raising a young litter, the Ximungwe female still raising her female cub (as far as we know) and the Nhlanguleni cubs not quite independent, let’s all hope that the Tortoise Pan male actually stays around Tortoise Pan, where he will do the least damage to Londolozi’s current cub population.