One of the most exciting parts of spending so much time out in the wilderness of Londolozi is getting to know and follow the internal dynamics of the predators, the shifts in territories, and the accompanying behaviours. Lion Prides and dominant males ebb and flow across the reserve, and this intrigues us all, but the purpose and focus of this blog are to zero in on the male leopards of Londolozi, with particular emphasis on the three males that come to blows with each other around an iconic part of the reserve, the Causeway.
Over the past few months, we have noticed an exciting shift in the leopard territories throughout the reserve. This could be due to new males moving in, older males moving out, females birthing cubs, and younger leopards becoming independent. There is a continual battle for territory amongst the Leopards of Londolozi.
Heading out early one morning with the goal of finding a male leopard, we were over the moon to find fresh tracks so of a male leopard heading along the road just outside of camp. With an air of excitement, we began to follow the tracks in the fresh morning air. Our immediate assumption was that these tracks belonged to the Senegal Bush Male, but as we started to approach the Causeway (a main crossing point of the Sand River to the east of camp), Tracker Ray Mabilane and I began to question that assumption.
As the morning transpired, the tracks headed north into the Sand River, and we were unable to find the leopard. One of the usual suspects we would expect it to be, the Flat Rock Male, was found in the northern reaches of the reserve, eliminating him from the equation. The Senegal Bush Male was found west of the camp, ruling him out. So then, which leopard left these tracks? The third male in question was most likely the Maxim’s Male, but this was one of the first times that we were aware of this male coming this close to camp. As time has gone on since we first started seeing the Maxim’s Male, he has put steady pressure on the Senegal Bush Male and has moved in to occupy the territory to the east of the Londolozi Camps.
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. One male leopard’s territory may include two or more female territories within it; however, there is usually very little overlap with another male’s territory. The southeastern parts of the reserve are densely populated with female leopards, making the area around the causeway a heavily contested area, essentially a dividing area for three different male leopards, using the Sand River as a natural barrier or boundary line. With the Senegal Bush Male to the South and West, the Maxims Male to the East, and the Flat Rock Male to the North, this area is a hotspot for male leopards!
The Senegal Bush Male:
Initially seen as a young male in 2016, this leopard only properly established territory on Londolozi in mid-2019
The Senegal Bush Male has, since late 2019, occupied most of central Londolozi and held his territory firmly, providing our guests with magnificent sightings. However, within the last few months, the equally sized (if not bigger) Maxim’s Male has shifted further westward towards camp.
Because of this, the Senegal Bush Male has shifted his territory a little further north and west. This shift in territory is not necessarily a loss for the Senegal Bush Male; as he loses ground to the east he seems to gain ground to the west in what seems to be fairly vacant land, originally occupied by the Flat Rock Male before he shifted further north.
The Flat Rock Male:
A dominant male leopard over the majority of the north. He originally took over the 4:4 Male's territory when he died.
The Flat Rock Male, who used to be the most viewed male and often found near the camp, has now shifted entirely to occupy territory north of the river. If you hear a leopard calling or monkeys alarming across the river from camps, it is most likely this male. His enormous territory spans the whole of Marthly and beyond our borders. Making the Flat Rock Male a leopard that we do not see as much of anymore. The pressure being applied from the south by the Senegal Bush Male and Maxim’s Male has resulted in him shifting northward into what could be vacant land.
The Maxims Male:
This impressive male arrived from what we can only assume is Kruger Nation Park in 2019, and we have very little prior information on him. Since his arrival, he has been seen pushing further and further west into the Senegal Bush Males territory (and having had a few altercations with the Senegal Bush Male). With this expansion of territory, he has been seen mating with the Three Rivers Female, Nkoveni Female, Plaque Rock Female, and the Island Female.
Fairly skittish male that is presumed to have come from the Kruger National Park.
Probably the largest leopard on Londolozi currently. The Maxims Male is an extremely impressive predator to view. His relatively shy nature yet extreme confidence and size create a very unique and exciting sighting.
A possible reason for this shift in males is not only caused by a desire to mate with females. Research has shown that male leopards will regularly undergo a double shuffle in their lives. Their initial dispersal from their natal area moves them to areas where they are unlikely to encounter related females. But then later in life, often at around 9-10 years old, they will sometimes shift territories again. By this stage of their lives, it is likely that they will have mated with the resident females, and their surviving daughters will have started approaching sexual maturity. In other words, an increasing proportion of the young females a dominant male encounters will be genetically related.
The dynamics amongst the leopards are ever-changing, and although we have a glimpse into their lives through the tiny portion of the day that we spend viewing them during the game drives, I am sure there is a lot more that goes on amongst the male leopards and their challenges and battles for the most prime territory.