The leopard dynamics at Londolozi are in a constant state of flux and all of us in the guiding team keep a close eye on new developments. One particularly interesting case is that of the Nhlanguleni female and her two independent daughters; we are still not certain how all three of them are going to get on now that the Nhlanguleni female has given birth to new cubs.
This conundrum sat in the back of my mind as we drove out of camp one hot afternoon into the heart of the Nhlanguleni female’s territory.
Our plan for that afternoon was to go and check whether the Nkuwa female, daughter of the Nhlanguleni female, was still near on a kill that she had hoisted in a tree near the Sand River. After checking the tree and its surrounds, tracker Bennet Mathonsi and I spent the next half an hour wading through the chest-high grass trying to find the elusive leopard.
Eventually we decided to head down to the river as a final roll of the dice. As my guests and I stopped to look at a three-banded plover wading through the shallow water, Bennet slipped off the tracker seat and neatly climbed the sandy bank adjacent to us. He hadn’t even summited the bank before he spun back towards us there was a female leopard walking directly towards the vehicle. I quickly repositioned.
One of two sisters born to the Nhlanguleni Female, both of whom made it to independence, the first intact litter to do so in 7 years.
We followed the leopard as she rejoined the road and headed back towards the remains of her kill. Something seemed strange about the situation however; her strolling seemed to be more of a hesitant treading. She paused at a small pan to drink, but the whole time she kept looking back in the direction of the river. Our curiosity was piquing and suddenly we realised why she was so nervous: another leopard appeared from behind the long grass, following her.
A glance through the binoculars confirmed our suspicions; the other leopard was the Nhlanguleni female, the Nkuwa female’s mother.
The Nkuwa female finished drinking and moved quickly back to her kill while her mother followed almost malevolently behind (the Nhlanguleni female had been seen keeping her newest two cubs in a nearby rocky section of the river bank just one week earlier).
Once at the tree with the kill, the Nkuwa female went straight up towards the carcass. The Nhlanguleni female arrived shortly afterwards and set about calling and scent marking profusely before settling at the base of the shady tree with her eyes locked on her daughter. We sat with the leopards for a while before heading off for a welcome refreshment and sunset at the river. When we returned the spot where we left the pair of leopards, there was no sign of the Nkuwa female and only her mother could be found.
This fascinating scene that played out before us gives some indication of how the Nhlanguleni female is going to treat her two older daughters now she has given birth to two new cubs.
Female leopards often inherit a portion of their mother’s territory when they become independent, but in this case, both the Nkuwa and Finfoot (the Nkuwa female’s sister) females will have to expand their territories in order to keep the peace between them and their mother while she rears her latest litter.
It is clear that the Nhlanguleni female doesn’t want anything getting too close to her latest cubs, including her own older offspring.
Since this day, the Nhlanguleni female has moved her cubs into the Sand River’s rocky section near to the Londolozi camps, although no one has seen them for a couple of weeks. It will be very interesting to see where each of the three respective female leopards choose settle, although there might not be a lot of ‘choice’ for the daughters….