Mid-Day With The Flat Rock Male Leopard

By 9am on a rather warm Summer’s morning, we had decided it was time to head back to camp to enjoy a delicious breakfast looking out over the banks of the Sand River from Granite Camp. As we were approaching the camp, vervet monkey alarm calls caught our attention and re-directed us towards the giant Ebony trees dotted along the river, in search of the threat that the troop had spotted. A combination of Freddy looking for tracks, stopping the car and listening, and the whole group searching the shady thickets meant it only took about eight minutes after the first alarm for us to spot the Flat Rock Male leopard on the open crest in front of Londolozi’s camps.

It was a great surprise, particularly for myself and Freddy. It had been a while since we had last seen the Flat Rock Male. Due to the pressure from the slightly bigger and more dominant males in the south of the reserve (the Maxims male as well as the Senegal Bush Male), we have started to see less of the Flat Rock Male as we presume he is also subsequently shifting further north.

Research has shown that male leopards will regularly undergo a double-shuffle in their lives. Their initial dispersal from their natal area moves them to where they are unlikely to encounter related females, which thus strengthens the genetic pool. But then later in life – often at around nine or ten years old –  they will sometimes shift territories again. This is also theorised to be driven by genetics. By this stage of their lives it is likely that they will have mated with the resident females, and surviving daughters will have started approaching sexual maturity. In other words, an increasing proportion of the young females and dominant male encounters will be genetically related.

This isn’t a train smash in the leopard world, as inbreeding can occur and isn’t too harmful for only one generation. But in order to maintain a healthy gene pool, it is better if dispersal takes place. More often than not this will be taken care of through a shift in the male’s territory.

Obviously, it isn’t as cut-and-dried as this; several other factors are involved, like the potential for expansion or shifting based on neighbouring males, the sex ratio of a male’s offspring (i.e. the actual genetic pressure), among others. But this second shift has been well documented. Recently, the Flat Rock male has been seen further and further north into Londolozi, pushing far north beyond Londolozi’s northern boundary.

This particular morning we followed him for a good while. From termite mound to termite mound as he went in search of something to hunt, the atypical behaviour of an adult male leopard hunting in the mid-day heat kept us entertained for the whole sighting. As he searched for newborn warthog piglets, impala lambs, or even young wildebeest, we always stood a chance of seeing something out of the norm. The highlight of the sighting for all of us was when the Flat Rock Male unknowingly bumped into three of the Ntsevu Sub-adult Male lions.

As the male leopard was taking a rest on top of a termite mound, tracker Freddy spotted the three lions resting in the shade of a nearby tree. Fortunately for the Flat Rock Male, the relatively open space between the mound and the tree allowed enough space and time for him to spot the three males and quickly move out of the area. As the lions caught the scent of the leopard they stood up to investigate who and what was nearby.

It was an amazing morning, filled with excitement, beauty, and elegance, and ended off with a little nervousness. We were now ready for that tasty breakfast on the Granite Camp Deck.

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