It was a beautiful spring day. I asked my guests if they wanted to leave slightly earlier on our afternoon drive, as we were on the hunt for the elusive leopard. It was the one animal my guests were desperate to see out in the wild. I heard earlier from a colleague a leopard had been spotted earlier that day.
With a direction in mind, we set off. I could sense the excitement of my guests build as we headed further into the bush. As we approached the general area, Vusi, my tracker, began scanning the ground for tracks or any sign to lead us closer. After half an hour of scanning and scouting, Vusi finally picked up on some of the tracks. We continued to follow them to see where they might lead us. After about an hour or so, we still had no visibility of the leopard. We agreed to go and stop for drinks and try again afterwards when it was a little bit cooler. I decided to attempt one last loop around a section of the bush where tracks went in but did not come out.
As I rounded the corner, there stood a beautiful male leopard right next to the road. What a magnificient moment! He slowly moved back into an open section of the bush. I followed him so my guests could get a few photos in before he decided to go deeper into the thicket. However, instead of moving further in, he lay down in the open with perfect photo opportunities. To our surprise, a female leopard made her appearance from behind us. She walked straight to the male. That’s when I knew it was about to happen. I told my guests: “keep your cameras ready or put it on video mode as this is going to be quick”. I barely finished speaking when this incredible sighting of leopards mating happened just a couple of meters away from us.
• Leopards mate every 15 minutes for up to 5 days and lasts only a couple of seconds
• This means that they can mate more than 250 times
• Although this may seem a little excessive, in leopards, the female requires a stimulus to start ovulation
• This is possible when the female’s hormone levels rise enough to produce eggs in a process called oestrus
• When a female enters oestrus she will and mark her territory more frequently, thereby attracting the dominant male in the area
• To stimulate the female to ovulate male leopards have barbs on their penises which dig into the female.
• These barbs make retracting the penis painful for the female which causes her to lash out at the male – you can see her reaction to the male from the images
• Leopards are a solitary breeder
• Males leave after mating frequently for about a week and the male will take no part in rearing the cubs
• If mating was successful, the gestation period will last about 100 days
With very excited guests still revelling in what we all just witnessed, we decided to spend some more time with them and follow them once again through the bushes. Just as we were about to leave the area, they treated us once again with another mating ritual. This time it was a little bit more private, behind some small shrubs. We could still hear them as they make a lot of noise during mating.
Watch the below video taken by Karula Ranger Marnus below which shows the females aggression.
The guests and I started snapping a couple of photos of them as they moved closer. I was also able to get a few shots of my fellow ranger Queen in the background to give you a perspective of how large a +/- two-year-old lion is. Leaving them and ready now to go and stop for our sundowners the guest couldn’t stop talking about this incredible event that just took place.
It just shows you once again, you must expect the unexpected and not give up too soon as you never know what your reward will be like if you do find the one thing you were looking for!
Story and photos by: Buffalo Camp Ranger Hancho Olivier