The life of the Mashaba female is probably one of the most documented of leopards that we get to observe at Londolozi.
A few weeks ago we were thrilled to discover her new cub that she had left stashed in a den in the Maxabene river. In the days that followed Pete Thorpe reviewed the footage from the trail-cam that we had left near the den and was astonished to see the Senegal Bush male carrying that same cub out of the den. This is completely undocumented behaviour (as fas as we know) from a male leopard, and left us with a lot of unanswered questions as to the well-being of the cub.
Unfortunately, sightings of the Mashaba female around the den were not happening anymore and we were left thinking that either the cub had been killed and she had moved off or she had just moved the cub to another den which we had not found yet. Either way it became frustrating because we could not find her for quite some time after the incident.
Not too long after that we all decided that we were going to focus on trying to find her one morning. We roped in the Tracker Academy to aid us in our search which was a great call because later that morning we got a radio call from them saying that they had found a female leopard but they were not sure which individual it was. We went straight there and were very excited to discover that it was indeed the Mashaba female.
She was looking quite hungry and seemed to have not eaten in awhile so we were hopeful that she would get up and start hunting and eventually lead us to her cub. As she stood up though we struggled to make out if there were any suckle marks around her teats which immediately called into question if the cub was still alive or not. We were not able to get the best view as she was constantly on the move through some thick bush. We tried to stick with her to get a final answer but we were not able to see anything conclusive.
On one hand, the brief view of her belly that we had without any distinct suckle marks could tell us that she has indeed lost the cub but on the other hand we also know it is not uncommon for a hunting leopard to be away for over a day and perhaps her fur was not showing any obvious signs because she had not nursed her cub in a day or even two. We’ve learnt from the Wild Dog pups, who we thought had been killed only to pop up 10 days later, not to jump to conclusions too quickly and so that’s exactly what we are not going to do.
We are searching for her almost every game drive now and really hope that she has just found another den that she is busy using. Despite leopard cubs’ low survival rates, we know from past experience that anything is possible.