Those of you familiar with the Leopards of Londolozi will know that we ascribe a name to each individual upon their becoming an adult. An ‘adult’ leopard, at least for us, is considered to be when he or she is not only fully independent of their mother but also showing clear and obvious signs of becoming – or at least attempting to become – territorial in a particular area.
Recently three young females have reached this independent stage in their lives, and the time has come to assign each of them an area/feature-based name.
The Ranger/Tracker Team comes together to put forward their suggested names for these leopards and eventually decide on a suitable one that either represents an area in which they are often seen or a feature of their behaviour, appearance or landscape in which they spend their time.
Firstly, the Nhlanguleni female has done an outstanding job in raising two young females to this point. This is the first complete litter to reach adulthood at Londolozi since 2012 when the Nhlanguleni female herself and her male sibling gained their independence under the care of the Tutlwa female.
An enigmatic female not often encountered, this leopard lives to the north of the Sand River.
Born to the Tutlwa female in early-mid 2011, the Nhlanguleni female spent her formative months (and years) in and around the Sand River.
During the same time the Nkoveni female, on the opposite side of the Londolozi camps, was also raising a young female. Both litters were born within a month of each other (March and April 2018, respectively) after the arrival of the Flat Rock male who at the time killed the previous litters of both these mothers and went on to – we suspect – father both these successful litters.
With the Nhlanguleni female being territorial directly west of our camps and the Nkoveni female being territorial directly east of our camps, we have been provided with some amazing moments watching these leopards grow from tiny cubs to independent adults. Over the last couple of months, both the Nhlanguleni and Nkoveni females themselves have pushed themselves further west and east respectively, not only to begin their renewed search for dominant males to mate with, but also to cede a portion of their own territory to their offspring – a behaviour often witnessed in the case of females raising females. This has afforded us the chance to continue viewing these three young leoaprds as they find their feet in the complex dynamics of leopard territories at Londolozi.
A young female that lives to the east and south of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
So without further ado, I present to you the newest independent leopards of Londolozi…
Nhlanguleni Young Female (a) becomes the NKUWA Female
This leopard initially began to spend less time with her mother around July/August of 2019. However she and her sibling we hardly ever seen apart until late October/November when they began to show clear signs of full independence. Like many other leopardscurrently on the reserve, she has a simple 3:3 spot pattern.
Upon closer inspection one will notice that the 3 spots on the leopard’s right side are arranged unevenly with the rear two spots being slightly larger, closer together and further back on her cheek. She has begun establishing herself along our western boundary, both north and south of the Sand River. This section of the river features a number of spectacular Sycamore Figs, a tree one doesn’t often see leopards in, but in a few stunning sightings of this leopard, we have. We therefore settled on the name of Nkuwa which is the local Tsonga (Shangaan) word for a Sycamore Fig.
Nhlanguleni Young Female (b) becomes the FINFOOT Female
Following an identical path to independence to her sibling above, this young female seems to have settled in the eastern side of her mothers territory, stretching from the camps further west towards where we find her sister, also occupying both sides of the river. She is also a 3:3 patterned female with three very symmetrical, straight spots horizontally next to each other on both cheeks. The area that she roams is centred around one of the main crossing points through the Sand River which we refer to as Finfoot Crossing (after a rare bird species that has been seen here a couple of times) and so we duly named her the Finfoot female.
Nkoveni Young Female – Plaque Rock Female
This leopard was born into a litter of two but lost her sibling at a very early age. However, since then, all has gone smoothly for the Nkoveni female and her cub. Spending the majority of her early life in her mother’s territory along the southern banks of the river to the east of the Londolozi camps, we started to see this young female on her own more often from around August of 2019. Also being a somewhat symmetrical 3:3 female, she can be distinguished from the Finfoot female by her significantly darker nose. With her mother having seemingly shifted her territory east, her daughter has become a regular feature among the prominent boulders downstream from the Causeway. A particularly well known landmark on the reserve is a large, flat granite boulder on the southern bank of the river known to us as Plaque Rock. Today, this area is central to this young female leopard’s movements and therefore couldn’t be better suited as her name.
Yet another successful generation of leopards at Londolozi begin their journey into adulthood. Hopefully we continue to see these three animals thrive and add to the legacy of their lineages in years to come.