Having recently gone through my photos, I discovered that almost 90 percent of my recent leopard images are of the Nkuwa female.
First, some background on this leopard…
Her name was bestowed upon her after she was seen a number of times in the vicinity of one of the enormous Sycamore Fig trees that dot the Sand River. Nkuwa is the local Shangaan name for this species of tree.
She is one of two sisters raised to independence by the Nhlanguleni female. All three females’ territories border one another, although to be fair the two sisters are not officially territorial yet.
The Nkuwa female, now aged almost three years, spends most of her time in the north-western parts of Londolozi…
Viewing of this female leopard has been off the charts, with her seemingly settling in to the area south of Ximpalapala koppie.
Maintaining a territory is no easy task as her sister the Finfoot female, and the neighbouring Xinzele female, are both vying for the same area. The growing hostility in this part of Londolozi can be seen in a recent video filmed by ranger Dan Hirschowitz.
Part of the reason I believe we are getting such amazing sightings of the Nkuwa female is just that; she is having to constantly scent mark in order to establish this area as hers. This results in tracking opportunities for us; patrolling for a leopard means walking and walking means tracks…
And there’s one more reason, the vegetation in her territory…
The area she operates within it is set with the central crests close to the iconic Ximpalapala Koppie. These expansive are littered with large Marula trees, fields of wild flowers and views for miles over the surrounding reserve.
Fortunately for me I work with eagle-eye tracker Ray Mabilane, who does not miss the slightest hint of a tail hanging from a marula bough.
The Nkuwa female loves to spend time resting in Marulas, as do many young leopards, in particular young females. Not only does it provide a safe and shady spot to lie but it provides a vantage point for scanning the surrounds for potential prey. If you are lucky enough to spend some time with this female, her behaviour is interesting.
After resting – which can sometimes be for hours – she will generally descend the tree she was in and immediately start scent marking, moving from tree to tree, then ascending and descending almost every second marula as she goes, constantly scanning. Seeing a leopard climb up and down a tree is something out of this world. Their agility is remarkable, and needless to say it provides a great photographic opportunity.
Going through my past few weeks of sightings, I thought it only fitting to pay some appreciation to this female leopard in particular.
I can guarantee you one thing: Ray and myself will be driving a lot slower on those crests going forward, eyes peeled, as I am sure the Nkuwa female’s story is only just beginning.