Cyberdiary: The “young guns” of MalaMala – 29 October 2012

In this post we focus on three young leopards that are poised to make a standing among the male leopard hierarchy on the property. These three youngsters have been around for a while now, and although it may still be some time until they mature and are able to compete with the stalwarts, it makes for an interesting topic to reflect on the different paths they have taken to independence and the strategies involved in staking their claims to a territory.

None of these leopards are truly territorial for the time being. This implies that they do not actively scent mark or roar to advertise an area which they will defend against other male leopards. It is an appropriate time for this feature since we have seen all three of these leopards in the past week.

The handsome West Street male - Gary Hill

The handsome West Street male - Gary Hill

The West Street male showing off his relaxed nature with Yuri De Villiers - Gary Hill

The West Street male showing off his relaxed nature with Yuri De Villiers - Gary Hill

The West Street male was born in April 2009. His mother is the Ravenscourt female, a well known leopard in the west. The West Street male had a twin brother that was reportedly killed by another male leopard at a young age. In his rise to independence, this handsome leopard has ventured some distance and has chosen MalaMala as a potential permanent residence. He is a magnificent specimen and has the potential to become a very large leopard. He has an extremely relaxed nature with the Land Rovers, and has fast become a favourite to see on the property. We first started to view this leopard in the early stages of 2011. He earned the nickname of ‘Concrete’ from the rangers, in reference to his tendency to perch among the pillars of the now fallen West Street Bridge. There was a period of a few months that this leopard could consistently be found in the Sand River in close vicinity to the bridge. Even now, the area still falls within the core regions that he frequents. His strategy to earn a territory has been successful so far: sticking to a core area, and building a base from which to expand. Nowadays the leopard can be seen anywhere around the Airstrip and further to the west. Eastwards, his area extends to the Matshipiri Open Area and southwards to the Kapen River. He has had a few encounters with other male leopards to date. The first that we know of was a stand-off affair with a nervous and younger male who we saw around the Tamboti Thickets for a period. The conflict was resolved without physical confrontation, and the West Street male was easily the victor in that occasion. Spurred on by his victory, on the day after this interaction, we found the West Street male strutting around the Airstrip with a new confidence. Until now we had not seen him in this area before. While exploring this new area, he came across a herd of impala and was watching them from a distance. Enter the Princess Alice Pans male. The West Street male learned a hard lesson that day, when the larger and much more powerful Princess Alice Pans male stalked onto the young male and gave him an ultimate fright when he pounced upon the unsuspecting young male from close range. The young leopard came away unscathed, but his confidence took a blow. The Airstrip male is a leopard who is yet to come across the young male, even despite his many efforts of following scent trails back-and-forth in a bid to track him down. The youngster will do well to avoid confrontation with the Airstrip male in the future. The most notable of his encounters have been with a leopard of a disposition not too different from his own… The Newington male.

A recent shot of the Newington male - Gary Hill

A recent shot of the Newington male - Gary Hill

The Newington male showing scratches after an interaction with the West Street male in May 2012 - Gary Hill

The Newington male showing scratches after an interaction with the West Street male in May 2012 - Gary Hill

The Newington male was born in October 2008 to the Western female. His father could be either the Bicycle Crossing male or the Princess Alice Pans male since both were seen mating with the female at similar stages. The Newington male has a twin brother who is less often seen and it still residing in the core of their mothers territory to the west. Their quests to adulthood have been very different, with the Newington male being prepared to disperse to new regions at a younger age, whilst his brother is more inclined to develop in his natal area. The Newington male and the West Street male have come to blows on a few occasions. Each time the leopards have come away with minor injuries, and it would be difficult to call on which leopard came out tops in these confrontations. The irony of this ongoing rivalry is that a victory does not earn either leopard any territory. It will certainly eliminate a threat for the future, but the area under dispute is already well under the control of the Airstrip male. Furthermore the Princess Alice Pans male is also a dominant leopard in that area. Let us not forget that the Bicycle Crossing male still also still holds a degree of control in the region. These three stalwarts perhaps deserve another feature in a future posting. A significant interaction between the West Street male and Newington male also involved the Tamboti female. The female leopard was in oestrus and was actively looking for a mate. These two young boys were far too preoccupied with battle, and did not pay the Tamboti female any attention. As soon as the conflict was resolved, the Tamboti female and the Newington male were seen to be mating, indicating that the latter had perhaps overcome the West Street male in that instance. This was an interesting choice of partner by the Tamboti female, who had preferred a young male over previous partners, the Princess Alice Pans male and, her half brother, the Airstrip male. Our sighting of the Newington male this week was around the Airstrip, and the male was looking rather poorly and in need of a meal.

Son of the Duley female 2009 scanning toward a herd of impala - Gary Hill

Son of the Duley female scanning toward a herd of impala (2009) - Gary Hill

A young leopard with a plucky character Son of Dudley female 2009 - Gary Hill

A young leopard with a plucky character Son of Dudley female 2009 - Gary Hill

The Son of the Dudley female, born in July 2009, is another young male often seen in similar areas to the Newington and West Street males. He is a younger than the aforementioned males, and is a few steps behind these males in the process of finding a territory. Considering the high level of competition among males in this region, it is likely that he is going to have to disperse to unoccupied areas to establish himself. For now he is still residing in his natal domain, where he is doing very well. He had an interesting confrontation a few months ago which involved an unknown male much larger than himself. The Son of the Dudley female showed tremendous courage as he attempted to steal a bushbuck kill from the larger leopard. The young leopard was gaining the upper hand, but six hyenas rushed into the area to claim the kill, and both leopards lost out. This show of character is not dissimilar to some of the qualities of his older brother, the Airstrip male. The Son of the Dudley female comes from a proud bloodline with the Bicycle Crossing male being his father. The Charleston male, twin brother to the Airstrip male, is another male of the same heritage and is dominant in the southern regions of the property. We can only hope that this young male is able to find a niche somewhere on the property, and not have to wander too far away before finding a territory.

We will continue to follow the progress of these male leopards with interest.

The MalaMala Ranger Team.

PLEASE NOTE: Animals on MalaMala are named after their territories. This means that a) only the predators have been given names and b) we only know the animals according to the names we have given them, as they are based on the territories within MalaMala’s boundaries.

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