The Airstrip Male (Leopards of MalaMala)

Portrait - Gary Hill

Portrait - Gary Hill

Born: June 2006

Mother: Dudley female

Father: Bicycle Crossing male

Family tree featuring the Airstrip Male

Family tree featuring the Airstrip Male

The Airstrip male shows scars of his many battles - Gary Hill

The Airstrip male shows scars of his many battles - Gary Hill

Identity features of the Airstrip Male

Identity features of the Airstrip Male

In June 2006, the Dudley female gave birth to a litter of two male cubs. When the cubs were still young, they – and their mother – were feeding at a kill, which was sniffed out by hyenas. Confusion ensued, and the cubs were separated from their mother. The Dudley female managed to locate one of her cubs and she successfully raised him to independence. He is now known as the Charleston male, and is territorial in the southern parts of the property. The Newington female, the grandmother of these two cubs, happened to be in the vicinity when the cubs were lost, and coincidentally had also just lost a cub of her own. The Newington female called gently for her missing cub, and the remaining cub of the Dudley female responded to her calls. This cub was then adopted by his grandmother, and also survived to independence and became known as the Airstrip male. This is a set of remarkable circumstances, and we are not aware of a similar event being recorded.

As we document the Airstrip male’s rise to power, we also mention the ever-changing dynamics of the male leopards of MalaMala.

A determined patrol - a trademark of the Airstrip male - Gary Hill

A determined patrol - a trademark of the Airstrip male - Gary Hill

From humble beginnings around the runway, the Airstrip male began to expand his domain as he matured. He is by no means a big male leopard. Short and stocky, what he lacks in size is easily made up for with his courage. Upon engaging in his task of expansion, he would have to be wary of other male leopards in the area. His father, the legendary Bicycle Crossing male had already started to age, and shifted his territory further south in response to pressure from his son and the Princess Alice Pans male,who is a large specimen residing further to the west. Against the odds, the Airstrip male was able to intimidate the much bigger Princess Alice Pans male, and the big male retreated. As a sign of his rising dominance, the Airstrip male was then seen mating with the Western female who had preferred the Princess Alice Pans male on many occasions in the past.  The threat to the east possibly presented his greatest challenge. This came in the form of the Emsagwen male. Also a large male, he was an influence pushing the Bicycle Crossing male south. In an unexpected turn of events, the Emsagwen male disappeared in the winter of 2011. He was a mature male controlling a large territory, and we can only speculate as to how he was killed. His disappearance meant that there were now large tracts of land up for grabs. The Airstrip male was on hand to reap the benefits. It was incredible to watch as the Airstrip male marched along the exact same routes along which the Emsagwen male used to travel.

He was now in control of an enormous empire. From the Airstrip and for many miles westwards, to Marthly, the Mlowathi and as far east as Emsagwen, the male was now well in control. After a few weeks he began to change his territorial routes, and he abandoned a portion of his new kingdom. This was perhaps a smart move. Male leopards will try and control as big an area as the individual can effectively control, limited only by his ability to cover ground and dominate other males he may come into contact with. The result of establishing a large territory means that it will incorporate the territories of many females, which has obvious benefits for the male. The areas that the Airstrip male neglected to include are mainly to the north and east. He no longer visits the areas anywhere north of the Gowrie boundary, both areas that were under the control of the Emsagwen male. In August this year the male has had a new threat to his kingdom from ‘Tyson’, otherwise known as the ‘Marthly male’, a huge leopard from the north that is venturing south into the core areas of the Airstrip male’s territory. The Gowrie male, who operates around the Mlowathi River, is also a potential threat, but so far the Airstrip male has managed to keep both at bay.

The warrior on the move - Gary Hill

The warrior on the move - Gary Hill

There are currently many new male leopards to that frequent the areas that were not seized by the Airstrip male. Some of these new leopards are simply young males looking to establish themselves. The West Street male and the Newington male are examples of these. Other leopards new to the area are mature males that have been able to expand their territories. The Hogvaal male, Gowrie male and the Tslebe Rocks male are now seen in areas where they were not previously noticed. Some of these males have had encounters among each other, but none have crossed paths with the Airstrip male to date.

The Airstip male has mated with seven females that we know of. The Western, Ostrich Koppies, Kikilezi, Tamboti, Vomba, and the Mlowathi female leopards. The non-territorial daughter of the Kikilezi female has also mated with the male, despite much reluctance on his part. Some of these leopards have travelled far from their core areas to seek him out. With the exception of the Western female, all the females are closely related and direct descendants of the Ngoboswan female. It certainly makes for an interesting observation and one would never be able to realise such a thing without following the histories of these leopards so carefully.

Until now the Airstrip male has only sired one set of cubs belonging to the Kikilezi female. We hope that he will be able to sire many more in the years to come. His aggressive lifestyle is bound to catch up with him, and this leopard shows the battle scars of a seasoned warrior beyond his years.

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