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Sean Zeederberg

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As a young boy growing up on an agricultural farm in Zimbabwe, Sean spent every opportunity entertaining himself outdoors, camping in the local nature reserve and learning about all facets of the natural world. After completing a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental ...

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on What Determines the Sex of a Leopard’s Cub? Why has the Nkoveni Female Mostly Had Female Cubs?

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Fascinating Sean, so just like humans, the sex of leopards can’t be pre-determined. Yes, it is interesting that it seems the Londolozi female leopards raise more females, except for Ximungwe thus far and Three Rivers , but if these same leopards had given birth to males, I wonder if they could have raised them to adulthood as well.
So now you know Nkoveni had male and female cubs, and we all will be following their paths to adulthood, if all goes well – fingers crossed!!

Thanks for the treatise and congratulations on your newest cub, Sean!

Thank you so much, Mary Beth.

Great blog. My view is that we should celebrate the birth of a Leopard cub, irrespective of gender.

We certainly do celebrate them all irrespective of gender, it was just rather a pondering of why the Nkoveni Female had mostly had female cubs. Also I guess because the female cubs are likely to stick around more than a male cub once they reach independence.

Hi Sean, thank you for explaining what determines the sex of the leopard cubs. Nkoveni female is a magnificent leopardess and perfect mother as she has raised 3 female cubs before. Now that you have told us her new cubs are one male and one female, we will be watching her closely to see if she can raise both cubs to adulthood as well. Thanks for the clarification on the sex of the leopard cubs, combination of genetic factors and environment and biological mechanisms plays a huge role in the sex of the cubs.

Thank you so much, Valmai. I am hoping that she is able to raise both of them to independence.

Sean, it is always interesting to review the scientific data on reproduction and also realize that there are many factors other than genetics that are in play.

It really is so interesting and the deeper you look the more complex it becomes.

Hi Sean, so, leopards sounds like typical long-day breeders, poliestrous and melatonin -related. Very interesting, I guess the single female has her own “personalised” periods, although all cats big and small are alike in reproduction process. Genetic is a never-ending source of discovery. Thank you for this original article and the special pictures.

Genetics is so complex and there are so many factors at play, but this was just an incredibly simplified breakdown of the main factor. We will have to wait and see if the Nkoveni Female has success in raising these cubs.

It is extremely fascinating to compare the sex ratio of cubs that have survived in various parts of the Sabi Sand and Londolozi. And ironic that her younger sister has raised two males to independence. And it seems to me that the Mother Leopard’s lineage was, as reproductive descendants aged and raised cubs, narrowed to males surviving (the Dudley Riverbank Female had the three male cubs – Xovonekela, Dudley Riverbank 5:5, and River Rocks Males – and the one female cub – the Ndzanzeni Female, the Piva Female reared the Piva Male, the Ndzanzeni Female the Tortoise Pan Male thus far), with all the known female descendants today outside of the Ndzanzeni Female residing off Londolozi (although if the Tortoise Pan Male is the father of the Xinzele Female’s cub, then that will be number two).

Then there is the Karula lineage in the northern Sabi Sand. Karula reared 10 cubs to independence, with 6 of those being males. One of her daughters reared four males out of six cubs reared to independence. It is fascinating to delve into such topics, thanks for this piece Sean!

It is fascinating indeed and the deeper you look into it the more interesting it becomes.

First of all, Sean, I would like to congratulate you and your wife on the birth of your little daughter! All the best for the little girl!
The determination of sex in animals is really a fascinating topic. Tortoises and some other I think can determine the sex of the future hatchling by laying the eggs in cooler or warmer conditions.
But with mammals it is – as you described- quite a complicated matter.
I sometimes wonder if nature kind of “decides” because for keeping a stable population of leopards e.g. probably more females are needed.
Thanks for the great photos of all these mating and mothering leopards and the interesting text.

Thank you so much, Christa. We are over the moon with joy. Genetics play a major role in the gender of the offspring in most animals, there are a few reptilian examples that like you say the gender of the offspring is determined by the temperature in which the eggs are incubated at. I also wonder if mother nature does it all in a means to regulate populations.

Senior Digital Ranger

Fantastic shots. Beautiful post!

Thank you so much, Johanna.

Am I right in thinking Mashaba has never raised a male cub to independence? I don’t think her mother Vomba did either, nor her other daughter Tutlwa. And then Tutlwa’s daughter Nhlanguleni has raised 2 daughters herself. On the other hand Nkoveni’s younger sister Ximungwe has raised 2 male cubs. All of which doesn’t really tell us anything at all! – except how lucky we are to be able to follow their history on Londolozi.

Yes, that is correct. The Mashaba Female has only raised two cubs to independence and that is the Nkoveni Female and the Ximungwe Female.
I completely agree, following this all doesn’t really help us answer anything at all, but where we are fortunate is that we are able to follow the lineages for generations and keep a close eye on it all.

Sean, Congratulations on Olivia Rose! She is so lucky to be starting her life in such a magical place!

Thank you so much, Saki. We really are so lucky to be able to raise our little ones here and expose them to the amazing wilderness that is Londolozi.

Wow, great post with equally great images of these noble cats!! And, of course, congrats to you and your family Sean!

Thank you so much, Paul.

Congrats on your new baby girl!

Thank you so much, Anita. We are through the roof.

Generally the X and Y chromosomes are the dominant determining factor…..but just like in humans the chemistry of the male and the female involved play a factor in sperm health and sperm motility and proportions of X and Y carrying sperm…..so leaving out the smaller factors, these definitely come into play with the sex determination of offspring. ( MD and Genetics major in college many years ago!). Of course it could also be just good old chance/luck too!

Oh yes….and congrats for the newest little Zeederberg!!

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