Friday, 3 December 2010

Nkateko Female Leopard

Name: Nkateko Female (Nkateko means “lucky” in Shangaan). She has also been mistakingly referred to as Rulani female in the south (before the guides realised that Rulani and Nkateko were the same leopard!), and presently is also mistaking referred to as Young Clara Female on the property where she now resides – she has absolutely no relation to the Clara Female that used to roam on that property.

Born: February 2008

Territory: This beautiful female was born on Jaydee near Makulu Dam, and spent her youth growing up on Java, eastern Jaydee, Vielmetter, and the northern portions of King’s property, with the core of that area being Java and the eastern parts of Vielmetter. She was seen as far north as Marula Overhang (almost the Java-Mali boundary); in the east she would move into Mananga; to the west she would almost never cross the Nhlaralumi, and to the south, Eagle Owl Plains was her limit. This seemed to be it until her mother died, essentially leaving this territory open to Nkateko. However, Rockfig Jnr (Nkateko’s “sister”) moved into the area at the same time, and no doubt put pressure on Nkateko, and this forced her out of the area. Nkateko moved south, and was seen around Machaton Dam, before being reported even further south around Umlani Camp and Marco’s Dam (the absolute furthest southern point that Motswari can drive, even by invitiation!). Presently, Nkateko is found even further south than this, and is viewed regularly by Ngala Game Lodge in their north and north-western areas. Chances are slim to none that she will return, but one never knows in the bush, and maybe nature has another surprise up her sleeve; after all, Rockfig Jnr returned! Maybe we have to wait for Nkateko for fall pregnant before she comes back ‘home’.

Males: Unknown

Cubs: No cubs yet

Mother: Rockfig Female

Father: Mangadjane Male

Siblings: She had one litter mate that died when they were around 4 months old.

Neighbours: Unknown

Story: Nkateko is a bit of a frustrating story, as all the work done to get this lovely leopard habituated to the presence of vehicles cannot even be enjoyed by our guests now, as Nkateko was pressurised out of the area and moved a relatively stupendous distance to the south to set herself up on a property used by Ngala Game Lodge. Starting at the beginning, Nkateko was a seldom seen cub for two reasons; firstly she did not want to be seen and secondly, her mom did not want her to be seen! Rockfig was extremely protective over the cub, and from a young age, Nkateko saw this reaction and immediately assumed that vehicles were bad news.

Nkateko hissing at a vehicle from behind Rockfig
As a result, sightings of her as a young cub were few and far between, and when seem, were normally of a ball of fur dashing off into thick bush. By 5-6 months old, Rockfig was tolerating the presence of the vehicles more, and was acting far less aggressively towards the Land Rovers, and this allowed us to sit at a distance and wait for Nkateko to shyly show herself.

A young and nervous Nkateko
With a succession of kills that Rockfig brought Nkateko to, the regular vehicle contact started paying dividends, and from the age of 7 months, Nkateko started getting much more relaxed when mom was around, and by the end of 2008 (10-11 months old), she was as relaxed as any young leopard in the reserve.

Eventually at ease with the vehicles
Moving in to 2009, Nkateko went from strength to strength and proved to be a very independent youngster, and learnt a lot about the local Rockfig hyena clan through far too regular contact with them, but one thing she did learn from this was to take her kills into a tree as soon as she could, and even at a just over a year old, she would hoist the smaller kills that her mom took her too almost instantly.

Nkateko quickly learnt to take her kills up inot trees as the hyenas were ever present in her territory!
One thing she didn’t quite learn was that buffalo are not to be hunted! And on several occasions, she would pop up in the middle of a breeding herd of buffalo, stalking a calf, only to be promptly chased up the nearest tree – a potentially lethal game if no tree is in reach! Around the middle of 2010, Nkateko and Rockfig were looking like casualties of war; Nkateko has a large wound on her right cheek, and concurrently, Rockfig was sporting a nasty gash on her right ear, a gash first seen after she and Nkateko were found fighting over an impala kill. Just over three months later, Rockfig died from that ear injury; Nkateko made a full recovery, and despite losing her mother, continued her success as a newly independent cub showing great hunting and survival skill. Her ability to hoist a fully grown female impala carcass into the upper branches of a marula tree at the age of only 21 months was quite something, and we knew she would be fine.

What we didn’t know was that her “older sister”, Rockfig Jnr, would return to the area and ultimately chase her out. The first encounter witnessed between these two (and quite possibly the first ever encounter between them) leopards was when Rockfig Jnr ran in and stole a duiker kill from Nkateko, right in the heart of Nkateko’s inherited territory. Nkateko hung around for a couple of months after that, but then started venturing south, shocking us by turning up at Machaton Dam.

With hind sight, that seems rather close compared to ending up at Marco’s Dam. She then disappeared for a few weeks, and a young female leopard’s carcass was found, but it was too badly decomposed to get a positive ID. Weeks turned into months, and there was no sign of her. The only confirmation of her existence was on the website of a lodge way, way south in the Timbavati, but it was before the dead leopard had been found. We all assumed the worst until her pictures started popping up on this same lodge’s website, but this time the sightings weren’t old, they were recent. Nkateko was alive and well! This was great news to know she hadn’t died, but bitter-sweet in that we also realised that she was unlikely to be returning any time soon, or ever for that matter.

But nature being nature, you can never know what will happen; no one would ever have guessed that she would have moved so far away to begin with, so there is nothing to say that she won’t ever move back north. Look what happened with Rockfig Jnr returning to the north out of the blue to give birth to her cubs; perhaps the same could one day happen with Nkateko. We all sincerely hope to see her in the northern Timbavati again one day, as she was a special cat!

Will this special cat return to the northern Timbavati?

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