In my previous blog post I wrote about the impending decline of the Inyathini male’s dominance at Londolozi.
Part of this decline is due to younger males rising up and expanding their territories, squeezing the older male out of his former range. In writing that post and reflecting on the rise of all these younger males, one seemed to stand out for me. The Flat Rock male has grown in size and stature since arriving at Londolozi in 2016 and has taken control of one of the most productive leopard territories in the region. His arrival into the area and eventual expansion across the reserve has been remarkable and deserves a bit more recognition than I initially thought.
With the death of the Robson’s male in October of 2016, a valuable territory was left vacant along the southern banks of the Sand River in the area directly west of the Londolozi camps. Given its proximity to the river, with multiple densely vegetated drainage lines flowing through, the territory was prime real estate for a leopard – not only was the habitat full of prey species but also home to a couple of territorial female leopards which he could court. The Flat Rock male at the time was only 3 years old and, as text books would have it, not quite mature enough to establish himself a stable territory and start breeding, let alone be in a position as perfect as the one described above. However, in late 2016, while living out his young, nomadic phase and roaming the Sabi Sand Reserve from the south, the Flat Rock male found himself spending more and more time in this vacant area, generally unchallenged by any other males.
Instinctually, he began to settle down in the area and defend a portion of this vacant yet small territory as his own. He began scent marking and patrolling through the river bed while familiarizing himself with the the lie of the land. Physically, he was small and still had to grow which meant that if he was to be physically challenged by another older male, he would likely come off second best. Therefore he kept his new territory small and avoided the attentions of surrounding males as much as possible.
By midway through 2017 he had now established himself properly. He removed any other male lineages by killing the Nhlanguleni, Nkoveni and Mashaba females’ litters at the time and began mating with these same females himself. The Sand River formed the perfect natural boundary to the north of his territory which kept the huge Anderson male somewhat at bay while he was also preoccupied with a much larger territory and very seldom ventured south across the river. To the south and the west of the Flat Rock male’s territory, other larger and older males such as the Inyathini, Piva, Nyaleti and Makhothini males also held well-established, large territories and, for the most part didn’t find it necessary to encroach north into the younger Flat Rock male’s domain. Conditions couldn’t have been better for the young male and he quickly developed a strong presence in the area.
Four years later and we now consider the Flat Rock male to arguably be the most dominant male leopard on Londolozi (based on the size of his range). The Nkoveni and Nhlanguleni females have successfully raised the Plaque Rock female and Finfoot and Nkhuwa females respectively all of who we presume were fathered by the Flat Rock male – a great testament to how well he has defended the area from foreign and nomadic males. Those same females are now again preparing to raise a new generation of (presumably) the Flat Rock male’s offspring. In addition to this, he has more recently been seen mating with the Ingrid Dam, Piccadilly, Mashaba and Makomsava females over the last few months which is a sure sign that his dominance is spreading further afield. This has been quite evident in the movements we are now seeing him make. Initially he expanded in an easterly direction along the southern bank of the river and is now seen beyond our western and eastern boundary lines around the river. Around the same time, he began to stretch further south as the Inyathini male began to struggle in the south-east, while towards the south-west, a much smaller density of male leopards allowed for less competition in that area.
His most recent move has possibly been his most significant though as he has begun to venture north of the Sand River. The gradual decline of the Anderson male (who we haven’t seen for nearly 2 months) opened up a massive tract of land to the north of the river which the Flat Rock male has since begun to make his own. He has, in the meantime bulked up into a large, powerful male leopard and, at 7 years old continues to expand and defend his territory with great success.