We like to believe that all members of the felidae family have some form of territoriality to them. Male leopards are probably some of the most fiercely territorial. In fact, in my experience they have at times displayed the highest amount of aggression over territory that we see here. Leopard territories are constantly in a state of flux and on one of my recent morning game drives I, along with the guests in my vehicle, was lucky enough to watch how these territorial shifts play out.
After following tracks of who we thought to be the Senegal Bush Male for roughly 30 minutes, we heard a leopard rasping up ahead of us. “Surely it must be him!”, we thought. However, after turning the corner and having a closer look at the leopard responsible for the loud territorial rasp, we discovered that it was in fact the Maxim’s Male. I have to admit that at this point I was slightly confused, as the tracks we had been following had come from the heart of the Senegal Bush Male’s territory. It was only after spending another couple of minutes with the Maxim’s Male and noticing that he was salivating heavily that we realised we may have indeed been following the Senegal Bush Male’s tracks all along and he might be somewhere close by.
Just as I was explaining to everyone on the vehicle what I thought was playing out in front of us, the Senegal Bush Male came around the corner! He too was salivating heavily. After a minute or two of scanning his surroundings and seeing where the ‘intruder’ was, he was chased off by the Maxim’s Male. It was almost impossible to follow them, all we could see was one leopard in hot pursuit of the other – both running at full speed.
This scene played out on three different occasions whilst we were with the males. First, they would fix their gaze on the other individual whilst giving off a constant, low growl and scraping their back legs on the ground as they scent-marked. After 10 to 15 minutes of an intense stand-off, one male would advance on the other and both leopards would then charge off into the distance where we would lose sight of them. After eventually catching up with them they had separated and the cycle would start again. A textbook territorial spat; intimidation and lateral presentation usually leads to one individual being more submissive than the other.
So, Who ‘Won’?
Well, to say there was an outright ‘winner’ would be inaccurate. The sighting ebbed and flowed with the Maxim’s Male clearly being the domineering enforcer at first, chasing the Senegal Bush Male further South and West, deeper into his existing territory. There was a moment however when the moods of both leopards changed and the Senegal Bush Male pushed back – my belief is that this was because they were now quite far into the Senegal Bush Male’s territory causing the Maxim’s Male to become slightly more submissive.
It will be very interesting to see how these two individuals battle it out over the coming months. The general trend that we are seeing is that the slightly smaller, older Senegal Bush Male is being pushed further and further North-West by the very impressive Maxim’s Male. For the most current update on male leopard territories on Londolozi, read this article.