The leopard dynamics are in a constant state of flux at Londolozi. Given that the perimeters of the reserve are un-fenced and open to a vast tract of wilderness stretching over millions of acres, animals are free to come and go across our traversing area as they please. Many of the leopards that we view at Londolozi today were not born and raised entirely at Londolozi itself and have only wandered onto the reserve during the course of their adult lives. This is particularly the case for many of the big males as they typically disperse from their natal area to establish a territory in a completely new space, away from their mothers.
One such leopard is the Inyathini male who – given his hostile behaviour towards people and vehicles when he was initially viewed at Londolozi in 2014 – we suspect hailed from deep within the Kruger National Park to our east. Despite this aggression in his early days, the Inyathini male has since relaxed and established himself as one of the most dominant male leopards of Londolozi for the past few years.
Another leopard who originated in the Kruger National Park, he has established a large territory in the south eastern areas of Londolozi.
In his prime, the Inyathini male occupied one of the largest territories of any male in the region; stretching down the entire eastern side of Londolozi, south of the Sand River and west into the central parts of the reserve. Tracking this male often proved to be quite a challenge as he could easily cover up to 12 km (7.5 miles) in a night of zig-zagging and patrolling. During this time he managed to leave quite a legacy, fathering several different litters of cubs with multiple females within – and even beyond – his domain.
This didn’t come without any challenges though and can will see that he is a battle-hardened male. Old scars cover his muzzle, notches are missing from his ears and most noticeably, a small portion of his right top lip is in fact missing which we suspect he lost during a fight with the Piva male years ago. Nonetheless, despite the competitive conditions, the Inyathini male managed to retain this territory for years.
However, we are now seeing a slight shift in the dynamics – one that was inevitable. The Inyathini male has, over the past few months, ceded the majority of his territory to younger males that have arrived in the area.
Firstly the Flat Rock male – a leopard well known at Londolozi for being territorial around the camps and along the Sand River – has began to expand his territory rather rapidly. When he arrived at Londolozi in late 2016 he was a relatively young male and initially only held a small – albeit very productive – territory. As he has grown in size and experience so he has expanded himself further south into what was the northern parts of the Inyathini male’s territory. These two males have been seen on multiple occasions having heated stand-offs recently.
Secondly, the Senegal Bush male, who up until a few months ago was very seldom seen on Londolozi and instead spent the majority of his time to the east of the reserve, has now begun to push west into the heart of the Inyathini male’s territory. This is most likely due to increasing competition in the east causing the Senegal Bush male to seek security elsewhere. As with the Flat Rock male, these two leopards have been seen in some aggressive encounters recently and, despite the Inyathini male coming out on top occasionally, I suspect the younger Senegal Bush male could currently hold the upper hand.
Thirdly, the lesser seen Mawelawela male has been seen expanding his patrols into the south-western reaches of the Inyathini male’s territory. Off-hand, I can only think of two occasions when these two males have actually been seen together but the Mawelawela male continues to be seen further further east of his old domain.
Lastly, smaller but still very significant advances have also been made by the Nweti male and Maxim’s male into the south eastern section of the Inyathini males territory.
Competition is by no means something that the Inyathini male is unfamiliar with however; this time his age could be catching up with him. All of the above leopards mentioned are at least three years younger than him and, for a male leopard which may typically only live to be 14 years old, that is a significant advantage.
Initially, when these younger males began to encroach we witnessed a rare behaviour in which the Inyathini male and his supposed offspring, the Tortoise Pan male, began to hold down the territory together. They were seen together on several occasions including a couple of times mating with the same female – a situation where the dominant male would usually display aggression towards another male.
This leopard ‘coalition’ (if you could call it that) lasted for a few months and seemed to work at keeping these other males at bay although now, with the Tortoise Pan male having left and dispersed the area (possibly due to the on coming threat of several males in the area), the Inyathini male’s situation has deteriorated. He has retreated in a north-westerly direction and has been seen in the same, small area continuously for the last two weeks. He is looking more worn than ever and I suspect that he will never quite return to his former glory.
Female leopards do still defend their territories with aggression but are at the same time still willing to offer their female offspring the opportunity to establish themselves within/adjacent to their own territory. Future meetings between mothers and their offspring are therefore not often hostile but both are a lot more likely to be aggressive towards unrelated females that enter the area. With that being said, they will not defend the the area as a single territory but rather as individual territories.
As for the Ximungwe’s male cub; it is very likely that he will leave his mother within the next year. Whether or not he leaves Londolozi is difficult to say and will be largely dependent on the intensity of male leopard competition in the area at the time but it is certain that ties will be cut between the two when the cub reaches 2 to 2.5 years of age.