A few months back, I shared the story of the Nkuwa Female leopard and her search for her cubs, as well as her mother’s new litter. Now, it’s time to provide an update, focusing specifically on the Nkuwa Female.
The Elusive Territory of the Nkuwa Female
The Nkuwa Female’s territory lies to the west of our camps, nestled along the picturesque banks of the Sand River. It’s a challenging area to explore, thanks to its dense vegetation that lines the riverbanks. Nevertheless, our dedicated ranger and tracker team has been relentless in their pursuit of this elusive female.
At just five years old, the Nkuwa Female is considered relatively young for a leopard. The odds of successfully raising a litter tend to decrease as leopards grow older, and her first litter didn’t make it past a few months. However, her latest litter, consisting of two males, has managed to overcome the most trying times in a cub’s life.
The Mysterious Early Months
During the first two months of a leopard cub’s life, they are kept in secluded den sites, hidden among crevasses between boulders. This is a vulnerable time, as any other predator could pose a threat. At around two months old, their mother leads them to hoisted carcasses, marking the beginning of their weaning phase as they start eating meat.
For the first six months of their lives, we had not even caught a glimpse of the Nkuwa Female’s cubs. Part of this was due to her territory extending beyond the western boundary of our property, but it also mirrors the behaviour of her mother, the Nhlanguleni Female, who has a history of keeping her litters out of sight during their early months. However, in recent months, we’ve been treated to some incredible opportunities to observe both cubs.
A Morning to Remember
One particular morning stands out vividly. Ranger Reece Biehler and I decided to venture out early, hoping to spot the trio. Not long after setting out, we heard monkeys alarming along the southern bank of the Sand River. We knew that their alarm calls signalled the presence of a predator. Within just 10 minutes of searching, Ranger Kate Arthur also in the area had managed to spot the Nkuwa Female and her cubs. We were treated to the sight of the three of them walking past our vehicle before settling atop a termite mound.
Having the chance to observe the trio in the open allowed us to distinguish between the two young cubs. The first male is the more adventurous of the two, with a spot pattern of 2:2, while the second male, who tends to be more reserved around vehicles, has a 3:3 spot pattern.
What Lies Ahead
As the two cubs continue to grow, the demand for their mother to hunt frequently will only increase. Male cubs, being larger even at a young age, have substantial appetites. When left alone as their mother goes hunting, they will attempt to practice their hunting skills, often targeting small birds or mammals. However, this practice will be mostly futile, and they will rely heavily on their mother for food for at least the next year.
In my time at Londolozi, I have not yet seen a leopard successfully raise two male cubs. The coming year will be an intriguing one, watching how the Nkuwa Female takes care of these fast-growing male leopard cubs. One thing is certain: there will be plenty of opportunities to find the trio feeding on carcasses, as she will need to hunt every few days to provide for them.