I was recently asked in the comments section of one of my blog posts on the whereabouts of the Tatowa female.
Quite honestly, she hadn’t really crossed my mind since I returned to Londolozi after the Covid lockdown. We have been spoilt of late with some fantastic leopard viewing close to camp and particularly in the northern parts of the reserve, which has kept us pleasantly distracted from purposefully searching for the lesser seen leopards, one of which the Tatowa female has always been.
However, since reading that comment a few weeks ago, I have been paying a bit more attention every time I drive through her territory.
Before I go further let me say that as of the 5th of January this year, the Tatowa female is alive and well. This was the most recent sighting of her, putting to rest in my mind that she might have met her fate sometime towards the end of last year. It is always quite difficult to say whether or not a leopard has died and we generally base it on how long we haven’t seen the individual for, relative to how frequently we are used to seeing her. Based on this, we would have to wait a rather long time to declare Tatowa female as deceased as she was never a leopard that we viewed all that often to begin with. Her territory has, for the most part, sat in a rather densely vegetated area along the central to western parts of the Tugwaan drainage line where tracking, spotting and even viewing a leopard is not that easy. The point that I’m trying to make is that it wasn’t unusual for us to go a month or two without seeing her but, to my knowledge, prior to the 5th of January she hadn’t been seen for over three months (at least) – that’s a rather long time even by her standards.
The Tatowa female has had a rather interesting story so far. She was born in the north-western area of Londolozi to the Ximpalapala female who was herself known to be extremely elusive and shy. Upon gaining her independence, the Tatowa female dispersed much further south of her natal area – unusual behaviour given that female cubs regularly inherit a portion of their mother’s territory. From a young age, she also appeared to be a lot more relaxed when being viewed, compared to her mother. However, as mentioned, she eventually chose a dense and secretive territory which contributed to her innate elusiveness.
When I arrived at Londolozi in early 2018, the Tatowa female was very seldom seen and I first viewed her only towards the end of that year. At the time she had just successfully raised the Tatowa young male who dispersed around that time. Then, by early 2019, she was seen to be raising another young male cub. Interestingly, sightings of her became a lot more frequent during this time. One would think that while raising a cub she would aim to be more secretive but the opposite was true. Firstly, we had found her den site which gave us a perfect platform to begin the search for her and secondly we – as the ranger and tracker team – were now more motivated and given a higher incentive for venturing into her territory to look for her given the appealing prospect of potentially seeing a leopard cub. For a couple of months she was seen, on average, at least once a week and it was during this time that I became quite familiar with her. Sadly, this cub did not make it and with his demise, sightings of the Tatowa female slowly declined again.
As I am sure most of you know, during the lockdown period we were fortunate enough to have a pack of wild dogs den in the central parts of the reserve. The den site was visited frequently as the media team followed and documented the story of the pack.
Chatting to Kevin Power recently who was part of that team at the time, he explained how the den site invariably drew more vehicle activity into that part of the reserve which happened to lie on the north eastern edges of the Tatowa females territory. This again led to us viewing her more often (and by often I still mean only once every couple of weeks!). As the saga of the wild dog den unfolded and the pack began to move off with pups in tow, so the Tatowa female was again viewed less and less.
Approaching nine years in age, the Tatowa female should still has a good few years ahead of her, assuming she doesn’t sustain any serious injuries along the way. What I find quite appealing about her is that while she is still relaxed around our vehicles when she is found, she remains to be elusive which at the end of the day is the essence of a leopard nature.
Who knows when she will be seen again?
The lengthly periods we have gone over the last few months without viewing her leaves enough time for her to have potentially even birthed a litter of cubs – we just don’t know! But with the recent downpours the grass is longer than ever and thickets are the densest I have seen which will make finding her just that much more of a challenge.