The circle of life. These could possibly be the most appropriate words to describe the wild. They can be words of cheer, uplifting us when we celebrate new life. They are also words of comfort when animals meet their end. We needed these words more than ever this week when we discovered some sad news.
We last recorded a sighting of the Kikilezi female and her cub together on the 12th of January. This was a few days before the advent of the floods. After this sighting, we saw the Kikilezi female alone once more before camp was closed. Since the floods have passed, we have seen the Kikilezi female five times, and once again, she has been without her cub. We were slightly worried but there was no need to be alarmed. The cub is reaching the age where his mother will leave him unattended for longer and longer periods while she patrols her territory and hunts.
On the 29th we came across the Kikilezi female once more and she was in the company of another leopard. Unfortunately it was not her cub, but its father, the Airstrip male. We watched the pair of leopards as our suspicions of the cubs passing was about to be confirmed… The leopards were mating.
A female leopard would only seek out to mate for a few reasons. Most obviously, the aim is to produce a litter of cubs. Perhaps less obvious would be that females would mate with males that are not the fathers of their cubs, which helps to confuse the fatherhood, or draw the male away from the area where she is looking after cubs. As we know, the Airstrip male is the father of the Kikilezi female’s cub. This could only mean that her cub has passed away or gone missing and she is now attempting to start over.
Then, as nature has a knack of doing, we were thrown another curveball. The Kikilezi female only mated with the Airstrip male for a single day before they parted ways. She was not prepared to follow the male as he went on his usual territorial marking routes. Was this because she did not want to venture too far from the last area of her cub to look for him? Perhaps this was the case since the following day we found her moving through the Mlowathi River, a core area of her territory, calling gently for her cub. She then stumbled upon the Styx pride of lions that were feeding on the remains of a kudu that they had killed the night before. The lions chased her up a tree and she rested until they lost interest. The wily old girl made a quick escape and that has been the last we have seen of her.
Hopefully the cub has just simply gone missing and he will show up unannounced sometime soon. The more logical thought is that the cub is dead. This news is hard take considering how popular this cub had become since his birth in April 2012. He was born in a litter of two, and hyenas possibly killed his sibling at a young age. In his short life he entertained many guests and rangers for hours on end. He was an incredibly confident leopard, running about the vehicle and exploring his new world with a disregard for the dangers that he could face. Who would forget when he decided to stalk a full sized adult male warthog? We will remember how he used to nip in between hippos legs as the beasts grazed blindly in the night. When he came across a huge bull elephant and he decided to trail him for an hour or two, to learn more about the worlds largest land mammal. We will never know how the cub met his end, but perhaps his reckless nature led to his downfall.
This was the Kikilezi female’s fourth litter, and her first to have not raised a cub to independence. It was always going to be an impossible record to maintain. We wish her good fortune with the next. It is also sad news for the Airstrip male, who has not sired any other cubs to date.
Ranger – MalaMala Game Reserve