There is always something quite exciting while venturing into the southern parts of Londolozi. Typically because it is not a part of the reserve we manage to transverse often and by many vehicles at any given time, given the proximity to the Londolozi Camps. So when one does manage to get down there, we find ourselves venturing into the unknown in terms of animal movements and knowing what has gone on over the last few days. One reason we find ourselves committing to the mission down towards the southeastern parts is the hope to see the Ndzanzeni Female.
This female is a success story all in herself, being born as a single cub to the Riverbank 3:3 female in early 2012.
Since the loss of the Ndzanzeni Female’s last litter, we have been seeing her less and less. Not only is she roaming less of her territory actively, but her persistent hunting and hoisting of kills has decreased as she no longer has two cubs to raise.
An unfortunate but characteristic feature of the Ndzanzeni Female is a noticeable limp on her hind left leg. Although this is not always obvious as she does from time to time walk on it and successfully hunt, so it doesn’t affect her too much.
She sustained this injury at some point while she was raising the Tortise Pan Male in 2017. At one year of age at the time, his survival was solely dependent on his mother, as he was still unable to hunt sufficiently. Surprisingly, the Ndzandzeni Female managed to provide for him and raise him successfully to a point where he ended up providing for her on some occasions. Over the years it seems that it has not healed fully and she seems to ‘reinjure’ it from time to time.
Born in 2016, this male spent his early years in the south-east of Londolozi, but began moving further afield in late 2019.
Up until a recent sighting which I will speak about shortly, the last time I saw the Ndzanzeni Female was in December last year (2021), this does not mean to say that she has not been seen by any of the other rangers.
In this particular sighting last December, the Ndzanzeni Female was scent-marking towards the western part of her territory. Unbeknown to us, the infamous Mashaba Female was trailing her. With the long grass from the summer and the somewhat rocky area with a few Sickle Bushes dotted around, the Mashaba Female had sufficient cover to gain the ground without the Ndzanzeni Female knowing. Soon meters apart the Ndzanzeni Female suddenly realized she was not alone.
Having made her advance, the Mashaba Female leapt towards the Ndzandzeni Female with her claws splayed open. The lightning fast reactions of the Ndzandzeni Female helped her manage to dodge the Mashaba Female’s efforts and she darted off in the other direction. Soon we found ourselves struggling to keep up with the two leopards as the Mashaba Female chased her at full speed through the thicket.
After some time we managed to catch up with them. Both leopards salivating heavily stared at each other, it seemed that the Mashaba Female was satisfied with how far she had chased the Ndzanzeni Female off and began to rasp incessantly while marking her territory.
The Ndzanzeni Female responded too with her rasp and after a few exchanges both animals headed off in different directions. We decided to stay with the Ndzanzeni Female and we noticed she had a gash on her front left leg which she must have obtained during this altercation or while fleeing potentially for her life through the thickets.
Subsequent to this sighting, the Ndzandzeni Female was seen a few weeks afterwards and she was in a questionable condition. The gash on her front leg had gotten worse and seemed to be struggling to heal.
Fast forward the clock to a couple weeks ago. We decided to actively search for the Ndzandzeni Female in particular and dedicated many hours to the search. Our slight glimmer of hope was finding tracks in an area that could only have been her, but the sun was setting and we had no luck. After two days of the search, we thought we would give it one last go.
Lucky was off the vehicle following fresh tracks of a female leopard, and I drove along carefully scanning the road and surrounding areas for any fresh signs. I then got a radio call from Lucky, letting me know that he had just heard a leopard calling and set us off in that direction.
As we came around the corner there ahead of us was the Ndzanzeni Female. The soft golden winter sun’s rays highlighted her as she walked perfectly (no limp) towards us on the road. I cannot tell you the contrast between my last two sightings of her and how at that moment I was struck by a sense of awe of the resilience of these animals.
As she glided past our vehicle and scent marked from time to time, we had a chance at noticing something very exciting. A distended belly, with what could only be fresh suckle marks. Not only is she in good health but she has given birth again. The mother leopard lineage may too grow once more.