Leopard cubs, it seems – much like the weather – are seasonal. The seasons certainly aren’t as regular as those of the weather, but cyclical they certainly are.
2017 was a boon time for those visiting our reserve. At one point the Nhlanguleni female was the only territorial female not to be raising cubs. We had a total of 9 mothers raising 16 cubs between them, and if you happened to find a leopardess without her offspring, you were almost disappointed. Seems a bit ridiculous, I know. Chris Kane-Berman, Londolozi’s Managing Director, stated confidently that it was the best leopard viewing he could remember in an over-20 year association with Londolozi.
With a number of older cubs achieving independence over the past year, and a couple of very young litters being lost, a high proportion of the female leopards of Londolozi look set to give birth over the next couple of months, if they haven’t done so already. Having said that, during lockdown, without as many vehicles criss-crossing the reserve, we don’t cover the ground quite as effectively as normal, so sightings of certain individuals have been harder to come by.
Here are a few leopards we believe may be providing great cub viewing in the months to come:
We haven’t seen this leopard for over two months. This in itself is cause for concern, as she has traditionally been a mainstay of our leopard viewing. If nothing has happened to her, we believe she should have given birth already, most likely somewhere near the Maxabene riverbed.
Her territory makes finding her hard. The Sand River is its central feature, and features a number of inaccessible boulder clusters and palm thickets where she could easily be stashing cubs. Sightings of her are scarce, but in our last one (about 6 weeks ago) she was believed to be heavily pregnant. She raised her last litter of two females to independence. Let’s hope she can repeat the performance.
Her last cub was lost towards the end of last year, and she has had ample time to fall pregnant by now. Her territory lies far from camp, and is defined by extensive riverine thickets with prime den sites. We will be checking this area very carefully going forward.
A big question mark for us. The Ndzanzeni female holds the most southerly territory of all our female leopards, furthest from camp, and is such is one of our least seen. She lost a cub last year after successfully raising the Tortoise Pan male, and the infrequency of sightings of her make it hard for us to establish whether she’s pregnant or even raising cubs.
The most critical factor in cub survival in the wild is the stability of the male leopard population. With new males comes a much higher chance of cub mortality, as males will kill cubs that aren’t their own.
At the moment, the male population seems as stable as it has been in a while, whereas in 2019 it was anything but, with three or four new males pushing onto Londolozi and probably accounting for the deaths of a number of young litters.
Ironically, amidst all the turmoil that 2020 has brought with it to the world, it has also brought a state of comparative calm amongst the leopards of Londolozi, and we’re hoping that the female leopards are able to capitalise accordingly.