In a recent sighting, we were elated to find the Nkuwa Female and her rapidly growing two male cubs. She had been successful on a hunt and managed to hoist her impala carcass into a Schotia tree in the northwestern parts of the reserve. As one can imagine, seeing three leopards together is a mind-blowing and magical sight. Leopards are usually solitary so a normal view involves only one individual going about their daily business. These cubs are presumed to have been born around February this year, making them 9-10 months old. And with them both being males, they are fairly large in size for young leopards and appear to be doubling in size with every sighting we have of them. Enjoying a sighting of the three leopards together couldn’t really get better, or could it?
One of the young males went up the tree and was busy feeding, while the other cub and their mother were resting nearby. Within an instant, all three leopards lifted their heads and were fixated in the same direction. Something in the thicket had made a noise and caught their attention. From the cover of the dense vegetation emerged the Senegal Bush Male. He must have discovered the scent of the carcass being carried by the wind and had come to investigate. Arriving to find the Nkuwa Female and her offspring, there was no doubt in his mind that he would claim the carcass for his own.
He approached the tree directly, sending the Nkuwa Female running for safety as she probably didn’t want to be on the receiving end of any misdirected aggression from the substantially larger male leopard as he showed his dominance around the carcass. It was almost as if they could immediately tell that there would be no aggression directed towards them, and the cubs remained where they were. Once he ascended the tree, the cub that was feeding didn’t move away from the carcass, the sole purpose for the Senegal Bush Male’s arrival on the scene. Interestingly there was no hostility between the two, almost mutual respect and a mild standoff that ended with the youngster giving way and allowing the Senegal Bush Male to eat.
At this stage, we are uncertain if the Senegal Bush Male is indeed the father of these cubs, but based off of this behaviour, and the fact that he was seen mating with the Nkuwa Female in the past, helps us as well as the leopards to believe that he must be the father. A male leopard will very likely kill the offspring of another male if he were to come across them. After he had had his fill and moved away from the carcass to rest, he allowed the cubs to feed, an interesting observation as often male leopards will claim the carcass and even rest right next to it so that the other leopards cannot feed. Here, he was allowing his offspring to feed, helping reaffirm our beliefs that he is indeed the father of these cubs.
For most animals out here, passing on genetics is one of the most important things and having your genes dominate long after you are gone is the ultimate goal. Allowing his cubs to feed means that the potential for the cubs to reach sexual maturity is a lot greater and will ultimately help with the continuation of his genetic code.
Watching this interaction between the Senegal Bush Male and his two young male cubs made us wonder, what’s next for him?
Rapidly approaching 11 years old, things are likely going to start to get a little harsher in an already extremely harsh world. Now passed the prime of his life, ageing does not slow down. The Senegal Bush Male was first seen on Londolozi in 2016, but he only started to become dominant and hold a territory late into 2019. Since then, he has been one of the most viewed male leopards at Londolozi. The heart of his territory is found close to the Londolozi camps and is probably why we see him so much. Holding such a sought-after territory for almost four years comes with its challenges.
Although still very dominant, the Senegal Bush Male has been under enormous pressure from the east, where the younger and bigger Maxims Male is continuously looking to expand his territory. An area that the Senegal Bush Male used to hold for himself. This, along with a fairly vacant piece of land west of him, and prime real estate along the Sand River and Manyelethi River held by the Flat Rock Male, also an ageing leopard, has resulted in the Senegal Bush Male shifting in that direction. Although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the meanwhile, if he continues to push further into the north, there is a chance he could come into contact with other younger, fitter, and possibly stronger males.
Coming into his twilight years, typically a male leopard will continue to patrol and defend his territory for as long as they remain in good condition and are physically capable of fending off rivals. Pushing north is one tactic that the Senegal Bush Male will most likely continue, avoiding the threatening presence of the Maxim’s Male to his south. However, this will likely result in him encountering the Flat Rock Male more frequently, another male in a similar situation. However, the Flat Rock Male is under a bit of pressure from the younger, bigger Tortoise Pan Male to the north of him. So there is limited space for either of them to expand into the northern parts of Londolozi without any conflict. Although mostly conflict-averse, male leopards will engage in a physical battle if necessary. This might result in an injury that could be life-threatening for them. From there one might expect the condition of the male to deteriorate and them being unable to hold onto the territory. This may only come in a while for the Senegal Bush Male as he is still in great condition and not showing any signs of slowing down just yet.
He has had a highly successful time over the past four years and what happens next will be very exciting to see. I believe that he will be around long enough to sire at least another two litters of cubs before he parts ways with Londolozi. So let’s see what happens!!