Recently a sighting of the Ximungwe Female, probably one of the more successful females when it comes to the success rate of raising cubs, caught us by surprise. She has successfully raised her second cub, the Ntomi Male, to independence (the first being the Mahlahla Male). That is a success of 66%. She gave birth to two cubs in her first litter and raised one and then the Ntomi Male was a lone cub as far as we are aware. She has not wasted much time in looking to have a third litter, and this is where the surprise comes in.
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
The male leopard dynamics have shifted slightly over recent times and this has now brought the Ximungwe into more frequent contact with the Maxim’s Male, who she was seen mating with on a few occasions. This is expected as the Maxim’s Male is a large dominant male currently holding territory in the eastern parts of Londolozi.
Fairly skittish male that is presumed to have come from the Kruger National Park.
After bumping into the Ximungwe Female and Maxims Male together on our return to camp, we made a plan to explore the same area the next morning to confirm if they were indeed mating. As we arrived in the area, we discovered fresh tracks from both of them on the road, indicating that they had unmistakably been moving around together during the night. During our tracking mission, we heard the distinct sound of leopards mating coming from the dense thickets, leaving us with no doubt that we were in business. It was just a matter of time before we would find them.
Success! After walking and driving the area extensively we eventually found them. An extremely rewarding end to this tracking mission and the whole vehicle was jubilated. It wasn’t long however until this jubilation transformed into a resounding surprise. From around a corner, a third leopard appeared, the Three Rivers Young Male. At that moment, we realised that the sound of mating that we had been hearing wasn’t coming from the Maxims and Ximungwe duo, but rather from the Ximungwe Female mating with Three Rivers Young Male.
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.
It is fairly common for female leopards to mate with multiple males. This behaviour is commonly known as polyandry and serves multiple purposes, the main two being:
- Confusing potential paternity amongst these males (leading each individual into believing that her new litter of cubs might belong to them) and as a result reducing the result of infanticide.
- Increasing the genetic diversity of their offspring (two or more eggs may be fertilised by different males) and hence raising the likelihood of survival of her litter in changing environments.
At just over two years of age, this young male leopard would have just reached sexual maturity and at times this was evident (he didn’t really look like he knew what he was doing). I have witnessed unrelated males vying for mating rights with a female before, but this was the first time I have ever seen the son of a male leopard mating with a female in his presence, and the most surprising thing for me was that the Maxim’s Male didn’t seem one bit phased.
Time will tell as to whether this passive behaviour from the Maxim’s Male will change and lead to his son claiming territory elsewhere on Londolozi or having to venture further afield. However, for the time being the Maxim’s Male seems to be tolerating the presence of the young male.
Much remains unanswered or shrouded in mystery, and nature has a knack for keeping us intrigued. However, in light of ongoing research by Panthera on leopards, it appears that our initial understanding of their solitary nature may require some revision. There is growing evidence suggesting that male leopards may actually tolerate the presence of their male offspring within their territories for extended periods than we initially thought. Having two males in an area could potentially deter would-be rivals more effectively than just one, thereby allowing the older and more dominant male to maintain his territory for an extended duration.
What’s more, the male offspring carries the genetic legacy of his father. So, even if the youngster were to mate and, by chance, pass on his genes, the older male still achieves a form of success, as his genetic lineage continues to thrive. It is not a completely irrational thought and could help to explain how the dominant males would allow the young males to hang around. Anyways more on this in a future blog. Stay tuned! But for now, enjoy this photographic spectacle of the Three Rivers Young Male mating with the Ximungwe Female.