At the beginning of November last year, I had written a blog about the mating leopard pairs that we had been seeing over the previous months at Londolozi. Now as we sit towards the end of March and over three months later if any of those mating bouts were successful, we should begin to see leopard cubs in the near future – an incredibly exciting prospect!
So how can we tell if a Mating bout was successful?
The first step in this is, well, finding the leopards while they are mating. If the two mate consecutively for around four or five days, there is a high chance she will ovulate and fall pregnant. However, she will likely move around and mate with a number of different males to confuse paternity and so which mating bout is the one responsible for conceiving is difficult to determine. But we can at least work with a ballpark figure from here. We know that a leopard’s gestation is around 110 days, so three and a half months. But from about two and a half months pregnant, it is possible to start to notice a larger belly, which only grows from there. Towards the later stages of pregnancy, one can notice an enlarged and distended milk pouch hanging off the belly of the expecting mother. This is a great sign that things are getting close.
An enigmatic female not often encountered, this leopard lives to the north of the Sand River.
How can we tell if a Female Leopard has cubs?
The first sign of a female leopard haven given birth is the no longer enlarged belly, which now appears to hang low and is somewhat flabby. The second sign is a very swollen milk pouch, which is when the skin hangs loosely from the female’s belly, full of milk for her youngsters. This in conjunction with the appearance of brown rings around her teats, known as suckle marks, indicates that cubs have been suckling.
The third sign, albeit difficult, is finding the den and seeing the cubs. Sadly, cub mortality is high for leopards and so many a litter has been born and lost before we are anywhere near even finding the den. Leopard mothers will spend more than half of their time away from the cubs within the first three weeks, making locating their den, very tough.
It’s only from roughly 10 days of age, that cubs will begin to open their eyes, and at six weeks old they will begin to venture out of the den for themselves. If you are lucky, and it doesn’t happen often, a mother leopard can lead you to her den site and you can get a glimpse of the young cubs. It is only then when the cubs are two months old, that she will begin to spend about 50% of the day with her cubs, which is when you are most likely to find them.
So now we are right in that 110 day range from a few females that were seen mating and hopefully will get to see these new additions to the Leopards of Londolozi soon.
So without further adieu, here is an update on the female leopards that were seen mating at the end of 2022.
The Nkuwa Female
Up until a few days ago, we haven’t been seeing much of the Nkuwa Female as her territory expands over our Western boundary. Rangers Patrick Grealy and Andrea Sithole had an incredible sighting of her as she walked along our western boundary toward the Sand River. It seems her mating a few months ago may have been successful, as she had suckle marks and her milk pouch swayed from side to side as she walked. Although her den is not confirmed just yet and is most likely located beyond of Western boundary, we hope she is able to triumphantly raise her first litter.
One of two sisters born to the Nhlanguleni Female, both of whom made it to independence, the first intact litter to do so in 7 years.
The Nhlanguleni Female
We have been seeing the Nhlanguleni Female often around the Sand River, and a few weeks ago with a milk pouch and suckle marks – a very exciting time! After ranger Jess Shillaw and tracker Advice Ngwenya went tracking in the Sand River and found her tracks littered around the riverbed around a rocky area. This got the rangers’ attention and the race was on to see who could find the cubs. Melvin and Milton won finding at least one cub, expected to now be about six weeks old.
Initially skittish she spent a lot of time in the Sand River, now relaxed she makes up the majority of leopard viewing west of camp.
As far as we are aware there is only one cub. It is impossible for us to say whether there were more that have been lost or if there was only ever just one. But we are thrilled that the Nhlanguleni Female was able to move the cub out of the Sand River just in time before the water levels rose after the period of intense rain. We look forward to some exciting time ahead viewing this mother and cub as she is keeping it in a well know den used in the past.
The Ximungwe Female
The Ximungwe Female was seen mating off of our airstrip at the beginning of September 2022. Her son, the Ntomi Male, will be roughly two years old next month, so it seems that she will be ready to have her next litter in the very near future. However, there have been no obvious signs that she is pregnant, or has given birth, and has from time to time been seen with the Ntomi Male sharing kills. Hopefully, as he gains more independence and is pushed out of her territory into his nomadic years she will conceive, and successfully raise another littler.
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
A single cub of the Ximungwe Female's second litter. Initially rather skittish but is very relaxed now. Birth mark in his left eye.
With the Ntomi Male now supposedly independent, we would have expected him to be spending very little time with his mother and possibly move further afield. But I guess toleration from the Senegal Bush Male has allowed him to remain around a little longer. Lets hope he does move on before the Ximungwe Female gives birth to another litter as one of the greatest threats to a new litter is young male leopards and although it is unclear as to whether he would kill his mother’s new cubs, the chances are high.
The Piccadilly Female
We began to see the Piccadilly Female more and more as she continued to raise her daughter, the Ngungwe Female, after the worldwide lockdown in 2020. The Ngungwe Female has been independent of her mother for over a year now, so we can’t help but wonder when the Piccadilly Female will have a new litter. It seems as though she has ceded part of her territory to her daughter, and has begun pushing her own territory more south and east resulting in rare sightings of her on Londolozi. For now, it is difficult to say if she has given birth but we hope she rears more beautiful leopards in the future, and we look forward to hearing her updates from our neighbours.
This female is most often encountered near the Sand River to the east of the Londolozi camps.
Young inquisitive beautiful female, bordering on independence as of November 2021
New Mating Pairs…
The Plaque Rock Female has been seen mating with the impressive Maxim’s Male as of late. It seems that unfortunately, she may have lost her cubs who we presume were denning in the Sand River, and she has therefore begun mating again. The Three Rivers Female has also been seen mating with the Maxim’s Male, but her son (also sired by the Maxism’s Male) is very much still dependent on her. It would be surprising to see if she does fall pregnant, as her youngster is not quite ready to be pushed into independence just yet.
Fairly skittish male that is presumed to have come from the Kruger National Park.
Forced into early independence as her mother was killed by the Southern Avoca Males.
One of two cubs to survive, the sister lost at five months. Still dependent on his mother, but is growing into an impressive young male.
Only time will tell, and we look forward to updating you further in the future as we patiently wait to see what unfolds for the Leopards of Londolozi.