Last week we were searching the southeastern parts of Londolozi one morning for leopards. After seeing some piping hot leopard tracks crossing through the Maxabene riverbed, Tracker Terrence’s eyes lit up. We knew she was close. Terrence and I had just got off the vehicle to establish where the tracks had gone after crossing through the riverbed when Ranger Tayla Brown, who was just within ear-shot of Terrence and I, managed to spot a female leopard walking through a big tamboti thicket not far from where we were. We quickly made our way back to the vehicle to join Tayla. It was the beautiful Nkoveni Female.
It is wonderful to follow leopards when they are on a territorial patrol. Watching as they weave their way through the dense vegetation with purpose, in utmost silence. She was covering a fair amount of ground, scent-marking all the prominent bushes and trees along her route. It had rained quite a lot the night before, and often what happens after the rain is that their scent gets diluted or sometimes totally rinsed away. Leopards need to then re-saturate the area with their presence so that it is not deemed as vacant territory for other leopards.
Eventually, she settled down on a large termite mound, resting for some time after what was probably a long evening’s territorial patrol. What was interesting about this morning was that I remembered about two years ago, the Ximungwe Female had followed a very similar route on one of her territorial patrols. She scent-marked some of the same trees and then proceeded to rest up on the very same termite mound that the Nkoveni Female was resting on now – which was as far west as I had ever seen her. It briefly took me back to a time when the Ximungwe Female had her territory in this area. Looking back, a lot has changed on the leopard front since then in the southeast of Londolozi.
Over the past few months, we have been seeing less and less of the Ximungwe Female within her usual territory and range. She is definitely still around and looks to be doing very well. However, recent sightings of her have been quite sporadic and infrequent, indicating that she has shifted her territory further away. The most recent sightings of her have been fairly far south, around the central parts of the Tugwaan River. It has now been almost a year since the Ntomi Male has been completely independent of her. He is also doing incredibly well and starting to gain some size too. He is still seen regularly, and all throughout the Ximungwe Female’s former territory.
The Nkoveni Female and her three daughters – the Plaque Rock Female, the Xinkhova Female and the Stone Drift Female form a rather big presence across the southeast of Londolozi now. They are all seen regularly in this area, aside from the Stone Drift Female who we encounter less often. She spends more time in our neighbouring reserve, MalaMala.
Ultimately, the Nkoveni Female will want to ensure the best possible success going forward for her three daughters. This has caused her to bear the brunt of confrontation with other females as she shifts her territory to accommodate her daughters, as and when each becomes territorial. The more daughters a female leopard raises to independence, the more likely they are to shift their territories. This was most likely the reason for the brutal clash between the Three Rivers Female and Nkoveni Female.
The dynamics are always in a constant state of flux. Both the Xinkhova Female and Stone Drift Female are young adults now and will continue to enforce more of a presence within the area. It appears as though the Nkoveni Female has been victorious in securing the central southeast of Londolozi now after displaying her dominance over the smaller rival, the Three Rivers Female. The Plaque Rock Female sighted recently, appears to be pregnant – so another litter of cubs is on the way. Will she finally manage to be successful in raising them to independence? The Three Rivers Female and the Ximungwe Female have both moved their territories southwards to account for the expansion of the Nkoveni lineage. Who will now be the fathers of their next litters?
Exciting times lie ahead in the southeast of Londolozi with a few of the recent territory shifts of the female leopards. We’ll definitely keep you posted on any further updates.