We had not seen the Ximungwe female for well over a month.
For a female who was seen very often on the reserve – in fact almost certainly our most frequently found female – to have no sightings of her certainly sparked some worry in the guiding team. Although leopards are elusive cats and secretive by nature, at Londolozi are extremely lucky to view them almost on a daily basis.
Towards the end of last year we saw she was spending less and less time with her male cub and has now left him to become nomadic; to fend for himself entirely. This is not new behaviour, but what is very exciting is she was seen mating a few months back and that is generally the sign that she is officially finished looking after her offspring and ready to raise a new litter again.
It was not long after we had seen her mating that she disappeared and sightings of her became more sporadic. The recent rains have not made it any easier finding her – along with other leopards – as the grass is now well over a meter high in most areas of the reserve and even higher in thicker areas. We knew she had to be somewhere and sooner or later we would find her.
That day came a few days ago when tracker Shadrack Mkhabela and I found a drag mark in a dry river bed; on closer inspection Shadrack told me in was a female leopard who had made the kill and the drag mark was very fresh.
We both paused and looked at each other, both suddenly very alert now. We followed up and out of the river bed where the undergrowth got very thick. It was a few minutes later, tracking through the long grass, that a leopard suddenly sprang out of a particularly dense stand of Panicum maximum and slunk carefully away from us.
We had found her and the kill.
We headed back to fetch the vehicle, and when approaching the site once more we thought it likely this was the Ximungwe female once again, after not seeing her for such a long time.
It was! We were thrilled, to say the least.
She picked up the kill and began dragging it, and we followed her through some seriously long grass until she stopped and scanned and found a Jackalberry tree into which she hoisted the impala carcass. It was not long before she descended the tree once more after grooming herself for a few minutes.
This behaviour was not abnormal once again, but then she didn’t stop and lie down nearby; she just started walking with what seemed to be a lot of intent in the opposite direction. We followed her for as long as we could until she walked through a Tamboti tree thicket which was just too dense to manoeuvre a vehicle through.
Later that evening I got chatting with fellow guide Tayla Brown who had been with me in the sighting. While discussing what had happened, along with the rather odd behaviour, Tayla said she “seemed to think the Ximungwe Female may have had suckle marks but could not be for sure”.
This statement would explain exactly why she was behaving the way she was and possibly why sightings of her of late have been so erratic. Has she found a very secure and safe den? Could she have a new litter? Was she going back to her den? Was it suckle marks that she had?
Hopefully all of these questions will be answered in the coming days and we will be fortunate enough to witness sightings like the pictures above! Stay tuned to see if this is all true and we have new leopard cubs on the reserve!…