A battle for territory and the fight for survival

Marthly Male parading the Mlowathi Koppies

The Kikilezi Female and the mystery of her cubs

After a month of expecting the Kikilezi female to reveal her sixth litter of cubs, we now suspect they may have been killed by the Marthly male roughly three weeks ago. Intertwined with the mystery of her cubs’ whereabouts, was the battle between two of our largest leopards – as two dominant males began what would be a series of raw and extremely intense physical interactions.

Airstrip Male and Kikilezi Female mating the night after she was seen trying to mate with the Marthly Male

Marthly Male and Airstrip Male interaction

The day began a successful sighting the Airstrip male in the vicinity of Picadilly triangle, where he appeared to be doing his usual morning rounds. Little did he know what he would encounter on that chilly morning, however. Moving through the lower reaches of the Mlowathi River, the Airstrip male confronted the large and impressive Marthly male. The tension mounted quickly, and the males wasted no time in sizing one another up in what would become a fierce territorial dispute. The two leopards were engaged in a parallel drag that went on a fair distance. The pendulum swung back and forth, as each male tried to get the upper hand. Short-lived breaks from the numerous brawls eventually saw the Airstrip male retreat deeper and deeper into his territory, seemingly out-sized and out-classed by the Marthy male. His ego bruised and his body wounded, the war was not over though. The Marthly Male and Airstrip Male came to blows again at the Mlowathi Koppies a few days later. This interaction saw the Airstrip Male wasting little time in displaying submissive behaviour towards the larger Marthly male leopard!

The Airstrip Male displays intolerance towards the Kikilezi Female

Unfortunately much of the interaction just described took place in the area where we suspected the Kikilezi female has been keeping her cubs, and has raised concern as to whether they are still alive. Considering that the area in which the Marthly male has now been seen does not fall within his usual territory, it is reasonable to assume that if he had found the cubs of the Kikilezi female during this interaction, he may have killed them as he may not have been the father. Furthermore, a charged-up large male leopard that is trying to stamp his dominance, will also not take kindly to a potential competitor’s youngsters hanging around.

Marthly Male

The growing presence of the Marthly male this month has been somewhat threatening to the resident leopards on MalaMala. Records show that he was seen on Malamala at similar times last year, and the six sightings this month are the only confirmed sightings of the Marthly male this year. These movements appear to be seasonal, with many leopard moving extensively in the vicinity of the river in pursuit of both prey and water.

The Airstrip Male takes a rest after enduring a long-winded dispute with the Marthly Male

The Kikilezi female caught in the middle

The Kikilezi female has been lactating heavily, with obvious suckle marks on her lower belly, for the past six weeks. However, she was often seen hanging around the Mlowathi Koppies during the few weeks prior to the interactions between the Airstrip and Marthy males. Interestingly, after the Marthly male was seen patrolling her domain, she was found following him and seemingly trying to mate with him. However, she may have been attempting to lure him away from her cubs by fooling him into thinking she was in season. The same could be said for when we saw her mating with the Airstrip male the following evening. However, these matings could also be explained as a response to pseudo-oestrus; a phenomenon occurring in leopards after having lost cubs before they’ve reached independence.

Sightings for the following week consisted of the Kikilezi female being seen around the Mlowathi Koppies on three occasions. She was even seen climbing to the top of the westernmost Campbell Koppies, just east of Mlowathi Koppies, which may be a positive sign if she has been able to escape with her youngsters and moved them to a safer place in time. Either way, it seems the Kikilezi female is on her own in the struggle to keep her cubs safe from the jaws of other predators.

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