It’s been some time since we have put out an update on the Three Rivers Female Leopard. Recently she has been providing some absolutely incredible sightings on Londolozi and we are starting to see her more regularly. She is doing very well and still currently raising a male cub who is now over seven months old.
Not too long ago, one morning before game drive my guests and I were chatting about the prospects of finding a mother leopard and cub. After our coffee fix on the Varty Camp Deck, we set off into the bush with precisely that intention.
We made our way into the territory of the Three Rivers Female. Her territory is situated in the southeastern portion of Londolozi where she frequents an area with beautiful old tamboti thickets alongside a dry riverbed. There are also some marshes in this area and big open grassland clearings, where many impala and other plains game are often seen – especially now during the rainy season.
She appears to be either shifting or expanding her known territory slightly westwards into an area that has been unoccupied for a while. On the rare occasion the Ximungwe Female ventures near to this area from the west, the Nkoveni Female has also recently begun encroaching into the area from the north. It is an area of great diversity and can be hugely productive for a female leopard raising cubs, as all three of these females currently are, thanks to the abundance of prey around in the area. The following pictures illustrate the mixed and varied terrain within her current territory.
It wasn’t long into the morning when tracker Terrence’s right hand jolted out to the side. He had seen leopard tracks, and they looked fresh. Tracks of a female leopard and young male. It could only be the Three Rivers Female and her cub. We got off the vehicle and followed the tracks for a few minutes to establish the general direction they had gone. They led us to a nearby pan where we could see that they had had a drink in the early morning. From there they wandered through scattered spikethorn thickets that encircled a big shaded marsh. Terrence and I knew that tracking them through here was going to put us to the test, but we were up for it.
An hour and a half into the search, I switched off the vehicle briefly to stop and look at a rare bird, a Dwarf Bittern, that was hunting frogs in the marsh. Suddenly, an explosive yet very abrupt grunt erupted from behind the vehicle! We knew right away that there was a leopard nearby.
We quickly looped around to the other side of the thicket where we thought the sound had come from. There she was! Seconds later, we spotted the cub too! We just happened to be in the right place at the right time. There they were, nestled down in a lush, shady bed of grass. The grunt we had heard was the mother expressing her disinterest in the cub’s attempt to get her to play with him. We saw this twice more before the cub gave up and eventually flopped down next to her. She groomed him for a few moments and then also lay down. They had settled up here in the shade to evade the coming heat of the day.
It will be interesting to see what materializes in the approaching winter. Here are a few factors that will influence the Three Rivers Female’s movements and behaviour going forward:
- Volatile lion dynamics across her territory. The relatively new Ndzhenga Male Lion Coalition now spends a lot of time here. Lions will readily seek out and kill leopards when given the chance in order to reduce competition.
- The slight westward shift of the Maxims Male’s territory. The Maxims Male’s assumed paternity over the cub and thus his territory is considered a safe-zone from other males, who pose the biggest threat.
- There is a massive swing in water availability, particularly in her territory. The many marshes, seep-lines, and pans will completely dry up in winter. Availability of prey will be far less frequent as a result. She will be challenged with new frontiers as her workload doubles through this period, providing for herself and soon-to-be sub-adult dependent.
There’s nothing quite like the excitement of waking up each day, knowing that you’re heading out into the wild, searching for rare and special sightings. When finding a leopard, it’s extremely rewarding in the moments where these beautiful, elusive cats let us into their secretive lives. Exhibiting the finer nuances in their behaviour is something we are privileged to witness. Seeing snippets of each individual’s life story unfolding. At every such opportunity, observe curiously and appreciate deeply.