Archives: 2003 | 2004

Adult male leopard with the shorter than expected tail:

December 2003


(4 confirmed sightings)

The old Short Tail Male really seems to be giving up on things and sightings this month were again restricted to a small area around the Sand River on NW Mala Mala, an area with good numbers of prey species, where an old leopard can almost 'retire' with little effort.  There appeared to be almost no energy put into patrolling territory, particularly in seeing off other male leopards such as the Newington and Rock Drift Males which have been 'invading' his land for some months now.

But, in spite of 'relaxing' or perhaps giving up, the Short Tail Male still faces everyday dangers.  This month he nearly lost his life when he snuck in to scavenge from a buffalo carcass which two male lions had been feeding from.  When he arrived, the male lions were resting in some reeds nearby and the Short Tail Male crept around them and started to feed.  The lions were unaware of the leopard, but when one of them moved towards the carcass after a few vultures passed low overhead, it noticed him.  The wind was strong and the leopard had his back towards the lions, allowing the lion to creep up within metres of the unsuspecting leopard.  Just what alerted the leopard isn't known, but he only just managed to dash off in time and after a long and fierce chase through the thick reeds, the leopard managed to shake the lion off.  If the lion was any leaner, perhaps he would have caught the leopard and this would have been his end.

November 2003


(7 confirmed sightings)

The Short Tail Male really appears to be in decline; not only are his movements definitely more localised, as if he is almost reluctant to get out there and patrol vital borders, but other male leopards continue to enter the area long considered and respected as his exclusive domain.  Amongst these 'invading' male leopards are the Rock Drift and Newington Males, as well as at least one other young adult male which is thought to have a territory to the north of that which up until now has been Short Tail Males'

Towards the beginning of the report-period, the Short Tail Male spent several days scavenging from the rotting carcass of a female buffalo which had died, apparently of natural causes, close to the junction of the Mlowathi and Sand Rivers.  Fortunately for the leopard, hyaenas in the area didn't appear to be too interested in his windfall.

October 2003



(8 confirmed sightings)
Although the Short Tail Male leopard was seen on several occasions and apparently getting good food to eat, there were several signs that he is being pressurised by other male leopards which occupy land on his peripheries.  At least three male leopards were seen within his territory this month, these the Rock Drift and Newington Males and a young male leopard which appears to have come down from the northwestern parts of the reserve.
The Short Tail Male also had fresh wounds on his lower back, these perhaps the result of a vicious fight with another male leopard.

So is he weakening or not?  The drought conditions which have almost certainly caused some prey species such as impala to leave areas that have no water would cause leopards in such territories to invade more productive territories, such as the prime riverine areas occupied by the Short Tail Male.  A shortage of resources would then cause conflict which would otherwise not really exist and this could be the reason why so many invaders have been seen.  But then again it might be that the old leopard simply is indeed finally giving in and others, on the wings and set on expanding territory, are testing.

Of the eight sightings of the Short Tail Male, four were on successive day, just south of the causeway, when he was seen first with the carcass of a sub adult baboon and then with that of an adult female impala, the latter in a huge Jackalberry Tree.

September 2003


(4 confirmed sightings)
The monthly-report-period started off well for the Short Tail Male when he was seen mating with the Ngoboswan Female, his long-term 'associate' within the area he controls.  Although the two were seen together for only one day, they disappeared into thick bush and, as with most leopard mating events, they almost certainly continued to mate for several days.

This mating, however, came to nought since two weeks later, the Ngoboswan Female was again mating, but this time with one of the Short Tail Males' bitter rivals, the Rock Drift Male, indicating that the Ngoboswan Female had made a deliberate excursion out of her territory to seek another male leopard.  And this seems to be the story of the life of the Short Tail Male - female leopards, although apparently respectful of his physical ability to fight off other males, have little faith in his fertility and matings with rival males have become the norm.  This has been seen with the old Mlowathi Female, the Newington Female and two years ago when the Ngoboswan Female was seen mating with the Newington Male.  The amazing thing, of course, is that when the 'other' male leopards' cubs are born, the Short Tail Male continues to care for them in the way expected of a dominant male.

Other sightings of this old male leopard this month were more routine.

August 2003

August seemed to have been a good month for this male leopard and he tackled not only the maintenance of his territory and every-day food management with success, but also the unscheduled day-to-day dramas which will always be part of nature.  At the beginning of the month, he was forced to sit tight when two young lions tried to steal a bushbuck carcass which he had hoisted into a tree.  Although the young lions managed to get away with some of the kill, the leopard refused to be panicked and secured the remainder and then waited until the lions finally realised that they were making fools of themselves. 

Less than a week later, he suddenly pitched up to chase away the Kapen Female leopard and her nearly two-year-old daughter from a bushbuck kill which the Kapen Female had only the day before taken from her sister, the White Cloth Female.  The area in which this action occurred was probably just outside the territorial limit of the male leopard, but close enough for him to respond to temptation.  Since the Kapen Female 'belongs' to the Rock Drift Male, she and her daughter were not greeted with any sort of friendliness and fled from the area when the male leopard with the short tail came roaring in.

On 26 August, two leopards were found to be mating on the western bank of the Sand River, to the east of the Mala Mala airstrip.   The leopards involved were the Ngoboswan female and the short-tailed male, known to be a previous mate of hers. 

July 2003

7 sightings: Of the sightings of this old male leopard, two were of him together with one of the daughters of the Ngoboswan Female, a leopard he has long been associated with.  On these two occasions, the male leopard had the carcass of a baboon and although hostile towards the daughter of the Ngoboswan Female, he probably allowed her to share the meal.  Otherwise, the short-tail-male survived the month and appeared to come out of it looking a great deal stronger than he has over the last few months, perhaps because the Newington Male stayed away - as far as encounters with the Newington Male suggested that is.

June 2003

The single encounter with this old male leopard was near the Mala Mala Bridge, close to the western parts of the Mala Mala/ Flockfield Boundary.  Soon after he was found, the leopard entered some reedbeds and was lost from view.  A few hours later and not far to the west of this position, there was a report of a male leopard together with a female leopard.  The Ngoboswan Female had been seen in that area earlier.  Could it have been that she had met up with the male with the shortish tail?  The two leopards have certainly been acquainted for several years.

May 2003

4 confirmed sightings of the adult male leopard with the shorter than expected tail: 

There was nothing exceptional to report on this male leopard as far as sightings went this month.  Early encounters with the Newington Male, his past nemesis, indicated that the Newington Male was still within the area under the control of this male leopard with the short tail.  Movements of the Newington Male later on in the month suggested that he had at least temporarily vacated these areas to the south of the vast territory which he now seems to control.  Towards the end of May, the fresh wounds seen last month on the male leopard with the shortish tail, perhaps inflicted in a fight with another male leopard and this perhaps being the Newington Male, were healing well and the old soldier was behaving along more expected lines.  One wonders just how long this will last.

April 2003

6 confirmed sightings of the adult male leopard with the shorter than expected tail: 
This old male leopard, although appearing to remain in good general health, does not, overall, seem to be prospering.  The Newington Male, which is probably his son and which he ran out of his territory a year or so ago, returned during April and stayed for quite some time.  Although the two were not seen to confront one another, the male leopard with the shortish tail was soon sporting a noticeable gash on his nose, perhaps from an encounter with the Newington Male.  Whether this is indeed the beginning of the end for this veteran, time will of course tell.  But he has been around for some years now and cannot last forever. 

The final sighting  of the male leopard with the shortish tail over the April report period was of him opportunistically catching a baby duiker and then dashing up a thorn-tree with the prey in order to escape from a hyena which appeared from nowhere almost as soon as the baby duiker bleated in distress upon being caught.  But the tree could hardly have been more hideous for the leopard; it was solid with sharp white thorns, surely making an uncomfortable perch.  But he managed to get away with it.  The hyena hung around for a while at the base of the tree, at first literally gnashing his teeth with rage and frustration, and breaking branches from the lower parts of the tree.  When that failed to get the leopard to jump out or let the prey drop, the hyena pretended to wander off, again no doubt hoping that the leopard would then vacate his prickly roost.  Still, the leopard failed to budge.  And ultimately the leopards' patience must have won.  The following morning the old male leopard was still in the area, this time on the ground near the tree and chewing on the scraps of the small kill.  He still had a few thorns embedded in his coat.  Nearby to where the last of the carcass was being eaten, was another leopard, the Campbell Koppies Female, which is probably his daughter, this assuming he was mating with the Ngoboswan Female leopard three-and-a-half years ago.  The young female leopard, now with a territory of her own and having mated already with the Newington Male (perhaps her half-brother), was cautiously watching the male leopard chew at the last of the scraps, no doubt hoping that he would leave at least something for her.  But this was not to be.  The male leopard, although he simply must have been aware of the presence of the Campbell Koppies Female, did not even acknowledge it and, when finished, turned his back on her and groomed himself for a while before moving off, leaving the female to head away in the opposite direction.

March 2003

This old male leopard was seen where expected this month and that being within the area of land between Mala Mala Main Camp and Harry's Camp and a little to the northwest of this as well.  There was one sighting when he was seen briefly with the cubs of the Ngoboswan Female, leaving them soon after the first landrover discovered them.  Although he is not the father of these cubs, his relationship with their mother goes way back and he seems to act as their paternal protector.  At another sighting of this male leopard, he was found close to the Main Camp with the carcasses of an adult baboon as well as an adult male impala; these lasted several days.  He still bears the open wound on his left rear leg (probably sustained in a fight with another leopard) first seen well over a month ago.  Although the wound is still open and certainly looks dramatic against his orange and black coat, it does not seem to be troubling him.

February 2003

5 confirmed sightings: For much of the month this leopard, guardian of the Ngoboswan Female and her cubs (probably his 'grandcubs') was sporting a very obvious wound on his lower flank, perhaps sustained in some or other fight with another leopard. Although obvious to the observer, the wound did not appear to be troubling the leopard too much. Sightings of this leopard ranged from upstream in the Manyelethi River to opposite Harry's Camp. Although now almost considered to be a leopard oblivious to the presence of landrovers, the male leopard with the shortish tail still deliberately enters areas impossible for landrovers to follow; he does not bolt into such places when seen, but walks calmly but intently towards them with the full knowledge that once there, landrovers will not follow.

January 2003

6 confirmed sightings of the adult male leopard with the shorter than expected tail:

There were also two sightings of leopards which could well have been of this sometimes quite shy male, both in areas considered to be within his territory. Towards the beginning of the game-report-period, the male leopard was seen with the Ngoboswan Female and her two cubs around the scene of an adult female impala carcass. It's not certain which of the leopards killed the impala, but all four appeared to have fed from it. Although the male leopard with the short tail is not the father of the cubs of the Ngoboswan Female, all are familiar with one another and few, if any, hostilities are evident amongst them. At another sighting, this male leopard was seen mating with a large and relaxed female leopard on the western bank of the Sand River, not far south of the Mala Mala Main Camp. The female leopard was not identified and the area in which the mating was taking place was in the very centre of the Ngoboswan Females' territory. But this is not unusual; when a female leopard is in season, it will frequently seek out a male leopard and follow it, even deep into the territory of other female leopards. When the mating is over - and this may take several days - the leopard will return to its own territory. Other sightings of the short-tailed male leopard offered nothing exciting beyond the inevitable and never-ending patrolling of territory.

December 2002

The four sightings of this old leopard suggested that he is still strong and in control and in fact even edging slightly beyond the usually fairly strictly controlled boundaries of a male leopards territory. There were two encounters with male leopard which had him entering areas around the lower parts of the Matshapiri River thought to be more under the control of the Rock Drift Male. These particular regions were certainly patrolled by this male leopard some years ago, this before the Rock Drift Male moved north and pushed him back. But with the Rock Drift Male perhaps weakening somewhat, opportunity beckons for these areas to be reclaimed.

November 2002

2 definite sightings of the adult male leopard with the shorter than expected tail:

Aside from these two confirmed sightings of this particular male leopard, which controls the general area between Harrys Camp and the Mala Mala Main Camp, there were two other sightings of a male leopard during November which were almost certainly of him. One of the sightings of what was probably this male had him in front of the Mala Mala Main Camp, in the general area of where some lions had some or other kill. It is quite likely that the leopard had been attracted to the scene of the kill and was hoping for an easy meal. But with lions around this would have been unlikely. Otherwise there was nothing terribly exciting to report on this leopard.

October 2002

11 sightings of the adult male leopard with the shorter than expected tail:

All sightings were close to the Sand River from as far south as Flockfield (south of Harrys Camp) and then as far north as the lower parts of the Manyelethi and Mlowathi Rivers. This male leopard, which is relaxing nicely in the presence of landrovers, delivered some good viewing during October and was seen interacting with several other leopards, including the White Cloth Female and her son, the cubs of the Ngoboswan Female and the Newington Male.

In the latter encounter, which occurred towards the lower reaches of the Mlowathi River, the Newington Male (which may in fact be the older male leopards' son) was found cowering in a tree with the male leopard with the short tail waiting below. Two male lions were watching this interaction from 100 or so metres away. Eventually the male leopard with the shortish tail wandered off and the Newington Male climbed down and drifted away. That afternoon the male leopard with the short tail was still in the area, this time close to a tree in which the remains of an impala were hanging. It is not certain which of the male leopards had actually killed the impala, perhaps the Newington Male since the previous day the male leopard with the short tail was a kilometre further south with the cubs of the Ngoboswan Female and was eating the remains of a bushbuck kill. The cubs of the Ngoboswan Female were fathered by the Newington Male which actually mated with the Ngoboswan Female whilst the male leopard with the short tail looked on. The male leopard with the short tail is the old mate of the Ngoboswan Female and seems to get on very well with her and her cubs. When the male leopard with the short tail started to feed from the kill, the two male lions, which had been lying in the area for the entire day, came along to investigate and even tried to scale the tree. But they managed to get nothing and the old male leopard simply settled down in the tree to wait for the lions to move off. The third interaction seen to involve this male leopard had him stealing another kill, this time a bushbuck from the White Cloth Female and her son. The White Cloth Female tried to regain the carcass, but failed and eventually left the male leopard to feed on the kill. There is some thought that the male leopard with the short tail fathered the first of the White Cloth Females' cubs and although he is probably not the father of her current youngsters, is no doubt familiar with the White Cloth Female. Perhaps due to this existing 'understanding' there was not much overt hostility displayed between the White Cloth Female and the male leopard with the shortish tail.

September 2002

2 confirmed sightings : These sightings were within less than 24hours of each other and both far south in the area considered his territory (if he even has one given his relationship with the females in the area as well as the Newington Male). He may have been responding to a conflict between his old mate, the Ngoboswan Female, and another young female which appears to have set up residence to the south of the Ngoboswan Female. The interaction between the two females may well have caused this old leopard to make an appearance. The day before the first of these two encounters, there was a brief sighting of a male leopard leaping out of a tree with the remains of a kill in his mouth. The area in which this occurred, southwestern Marthly, is an area which this old male certainly used to frequent and, given his often nervous disposition, particularly when food is around, the leopard seen leaping from the tree may well have been him.

August 2002

8 sightings : This veteran of the north-western parts of the reserve, in the area close to the Sand River between the Main Camp and Harrys Camp, seemed to enjoy a good month. At the beginning of the game-report-period, he was found eyeing out the remains of a rotting buffalo carcass, at the time being eaten by lions. Realising the rashness of trying to steal any of the meat, the leopard moved on. A few days later he was found together with his old mate, the Ngoboswan Female and her three cubs, which had a kill in a nearby tree. This male leopard, although not the father of the cubs (the Newington Male mated with the Ngoboswan Female), seems to get on well with them. The Ngoboswan Female herself paid him almost no heed and the cubs even played with his tail on one occasion before lying down close to him. Over the last year, this once very nervous leopard seems to have relaxed down quite well in the presence of landrovers.

One of the last sightings of this male leopard in August also involved his old adversary the Rock Drift Male, as well as a pack of Wild Dogs. The Rock Drift Male chanced upon the pack of Wild Dogs which had just killed a bushbuck and stole the carcass from them, taking it up a tree. When the pack left the area, they encountered the male leopard with the short tail which they then briefly harassed, forcing him to climb a tree. Once the Wild Dogs had left, the leopard moved on and came across the Rock Drift Male eating the kill. The two leopards confronted one another and the result was the Rock Drift Male moving off, leaving the other male to eat from the remains of the kill. The outcome of this interaction was somewhat surprising since all indications have so far been that the Rock Drift Male is by far the stronger of the two, not only besting the other in physical interactions, but also getting to mate with females once under his control. Goodness knows what transpired in this particular conflict which occurred on what must certainly be the very northwestern border of the Rock Drift Males' territory, but the male leopard with the short tail certainly triumphed.

July 2002

At least three sightings : Two of these sightings involved female leopards, one when he was in the area of the Ngoboswan Female and all three of her cubs and another when he appropriated a kill from the Kapen Female leopard. The Ngoboswan Female is one of his old mates and the two were seen walking side-by-side with no hostilities evident at all. However, the fact that both were also surrounded by irate elephants probably meant that they had more immediate things on their minds than mutual dislike for one another. When this leopard was seen taking the remains of a bushbuck kill from the Kapen Female, the latter made it quite clear that she was unhappy with the male and made good her exit from the tree whilst he climbed it to take the carcass. On another occasion, this old male was seen on his own near the Mala Mala Causeway close to the Main Camp. This was well after dark. Earlier that morning, a male leopard was seen briefly to the west of Harrys Camp and it could have been this same male which then made his way up towards the general area of the causeway during the day.

June 2002

Two sightings of the male leopard with the shorter than average tail. Both sightings were close to the Sand River and between Harrys Camp and Mala Mala Main Camp. At the one sighting, this at night when this male leopard seems to ignore vehicles, the leopard was actively scent-marking in an area where the Rock Drift Male, one of his old adversaries, had probably just walked through. At the time the Rock Drift Male was a kilometre or so from this other leopard, walking down the road, also scent-marking. The status of the male leopard with the shorter-than-average tail remains an mystery - while the dominance of the Newington Male (probably his son) in much of this male leopards' old haunts suggests that he is no longer a force to be reckoned with, other behaviour indicates otherwise. Another sighting of a male leopard in this same aforementioned area may also have been of this same animal.

MalaMala Game Reserve, PO Box 55514, Northlands, 2116, South Africa.
Telephone: + 27 11 442 2267 or 0861 SAFARI.
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