In the harsh world of nature in which a happy ending is a rarity, every so often an animal does catch a break.
The Flat Rock male’s arrival at Londolozi, at a time when he was probably too young and small to compete for territory, happened to coincide with a territory being up for grabs (the dominant male had just been killed by lions), and he managed to slot in without too much bother – at least none that we could see – and started eking out his existence.
A dominant male leopard over the majority of the north. He originally took over the 4:4 Male's territory when he died.
At first he was confined to a relatively small area for a territorial male; the section of the reserve west of camp and north of the Maxabene River was the only area we used to encounter him. But as he grew, and as his conspecifics shifted their territories and a couple of them met their demise, his territory expanded until at the start of Lockdown this year he was being encountered all the way from just north of the Maxabene to the north-central parts of Londolozi:
Research has shown that male leopards will regularly undergo a double-shuffle in their lives. Their initial dispersal from their natal area moves them to where they are unlikely to encounter related females, which thus strengthens the genetic pool. But then later in life – often at around 9-10 years old – they will sometimes shift territories again. This is also theorised to be driven by genetics. By this stage of their lives, it is likely that they will have mated with the resident females, and surviving daughters will have started approaching mating age. In other words, an increasing proportion of the young females a dominant male encounters will be genetically related. This isn’t a train-smash in the leopard world as inbreeding can occur and isn’t too harmful for only one generation, but in order to maintain a healthy gene-pool, it is better if dispersal takes place. More often than not this will be taken care of through a shift in the male’s territory.
Obviously it isn’t as cut-and-dried as this; several other factors are involved, like the potential for expansion or shifting based on neighbouring males, sex ratio of a male’s offspring (ie. the actual genetic pressure) among others, but this secondary shift has been well documented.
Recently, the Flat Rock male has been seen further and further north, and not two nights ago was found scent-marking along Londolozi’s northern boundary.
His motivation for being there may not be a simple territorial shift; the Tortoise Pan male has been popping up in the north of Londolozi, and being much younger than and unrelated to the Flat Rock male, would not be tolerated. The rangers and trackers are all hoping the Tortoise Pan male does get pushed out, as he represents a grave danger to the Makomsava cubs.
Born in 2016, this male spent his early years in the south-east of Londolozi, but began moving further afield in late 2019.
Whatever the reason for the Flat Rock male’s northwards push, two things are becoming increasingly evident:
- We are seeing him less.
- When we do see him it is usually north of the river.
In 2010 the Marthly Male started pushing south from the Northern Sabi Sand Reserve, eventually establishing territory across central Londolozi.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we see something similar from the Flat Rock male, just in reverse.