The West Street male leopard, by ranger Pieter van Wyk

The West Street male leopard, by ranger Pieter van Wyk

The West Street male was born in April 2009 to the Ravenscourt female. He grew up to our west and was first viewed on MalaMala in mid 2011. He has since made the property his home.

During his time here he’s had to keep a relatively low profile, tiptoeing on the outskirts of three different territorial males’ territories; the Airstrip male, the Princess Alice Pans male and the Bicycle Crossing male. His brief encounters with these three large males saw him running for the hills. He was also on the receiving end of confrontations with fellow young-gun – the Newington male, arguably his nemesis. But the winds of change may be blowing for this promising up and comer…

On the 13th of this month we were viewing a herd of buffalo and some elephants in the Sand River at West Street Bridge when a keen eye spotted a leopard in a tree on the eastern bank a couple hundred meters south of our position. It was the West Street male and he’d treed a bushbuck kill in a Jakkelberry tree. Three days of quality viewing followed, and on the 16th things got even better when the West Street male got some not entirely unsuspected company in the form of a scarcely seen female leopard.

West Street male with his bushbuck kill

A bit of background on her;

This female was first seen on the 6th of December last year up a Sausage tree in the midst of a herd of buffalo, and since then we’ve had intermittent sightings of her around the Tamboti Thickets and Mamba Waterhole. During this time she has become substantially more relaxed around our Land Rovers. She has been viewed in the company of the West Street male before, the first sighting being in March, but it was a brief and unfriendly encounter. The West Street male became more tolerant of her during the few sightings of them following the March 6th encounter, but each occasion was still heralded by an atmosphere of mild hostility.

The first sighting of this female leopard in December 2012, by ranger Pieter van Wyk

The first sighting of this female leopard in December 2012, by ranger Pieter van Wyk

On this occasion her intentions were clearer; she wanted to mate. His intentions were just as clear; he didn’t want to. She made regular attempts to ‘seduce’ him but each time he responded with a snarl and she would back off momentarily before approaching him again. This went on for two days, and the courtship was only interrupted by bouts of feeding. The West Street male did allow her to feed off the kill when he wasn’t.

West Street male and unidentified female leopard

West Street male not impressed with her advances

On the 17th the carcass had been reduced to scraps, but the sighting was far from over as a third leopard approached the area. It was the Newington male. The two male leopards sized each other up from a distance of 100m, both salivating profusely and scent marking. It was quite a sight with the female leopard watching from atop the bank. She ventured down a few times and strutted her stuff around the West Street male before ascending the bank again. It was as if she was showing him support…

On previous encounters, the West Street male acted submissively before the Newington male. But things have changed since then. He has undergone a notable growth spurt since their last meeting, and perhaps it was a combination of this together with the presence of the female and his kill that gave him the courage not to back down today. The Newington male appeared to take note of his foes renewed confidence, and didn’t venture any closer to him. The stand off lasted a few hours before the Newington male moved off.

The next day the West Street male and unidentified female had left the area of the kill, but it wouldn’t be long before we saw them again. On the 20th they were found on Flockfield Lookout. She had become more relentless in her efforts to copulate and finally, on the 21st, we saw them mate for the first time. It was undoubtedly the most intense mating I’ve ever seen; explosive, volatile and thunderous. We are quite confident that this was the West Street male’s first, and we know so little about the female that we can only guess. They continued to mate for the duration of that day, and presumably the next as well (we saw their tracks together).

Flirting

Mating…-finally!

West Street male and unidentified female leopard

Unidentified female in the same tree with the West Street male and bushbuck kill

The following day we were thrown yet another curve ball as this remarkable extended sighting took another turn. Usually when leopards mate they will pair up for 3-5 days with about 50 matings taking place per day, so when we headed out on the 23rd we expected to find the pair together again. An impala carcass had been discovered the previous evening in the general area of where the leopards had been, so this was our first port of call. Upon arrival we discovered a hyena indulging himself. The Newington male leopard then joined the fray, and soon after a second leopard was inbound. It was the West Street male, and his suitor was not in tow.

This story we will cover later, but here is a sneak preview – the two impressive young males spent most of the morning trying to out-intimidate one another, and simultaneously, all three characters (hyena included) trying to get a share of the impala carcass. Around midday, neither leopard had shown any sign of backing down and just as when an immovable object meets an irresistible force… something’s got to give. A thirty second all-out brawl followed right in front of us, with the hyena in frame. Later that day the Airstrip male made his presence felt to both young guns, and a fourth male leopard was also spotted in the area late at night. Watch this space.

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