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Male Leopard Territorial Disputes

By 4 years ago
Categories Limpopo and KZN
Following a male leopard each day has proved to be both incredible and infuriating at times. While ‘Tsavo’, our newest focus animal, is generally relaxed to the presence of vehicles, his typical leopard movements sees us following signal deep into thickets, into river beds and generally impenetrable areas. On the odd occasion we have had a sighting, he is nearly always displaying interesting behaviour, allowing us to collect invaluable data. We have recorded him on kills 5 times in the last month and interacting with other leopards on 4 occasions. The most recent interaction has been the most dramatic and hints at the start of a new era for Karongwe’s leopards.

While we have been hypothesising that ‘Tsavo’ is in the process of pushing out the Southern male, ‘Scar’, from his territory, we got confirmation recently when the two of them were seen together locked in a territorial dispute. Just south of our base camp, which was traditionally the heart of ‘Scar’s’ territory, the two of them were found snarling at each other, engaged in deliberate posturing and ‘parallel’ walking. While leopards will fight to the death for territorial rights, physical confrontations will be avoided if possible, using intimidation tactics to induce the competitor to back down. This was exactly what we witnessed over a 3 day period. From injuries that both leopards have sustained in the past few months, we know that they have had serious fights, but this most recent confrontation featured lots of assertiveness from ‘Tsavo’ and apparent avoidance and submission behaviour from ‘Scar’. Is this the end of ‘Scar’s’ reign?

‘Scar’ taking a short break from ‘Tsavo’s’ advances. Notice that he bears old facial injuries from previous territorial disputes and  from  mating sessions

‘Tsavo’ is now 5 years old and developing into a monstrous leopard. ‘Scar’ is at least 9 years old and is already of smaller build that ‘Tsavo’. This natural process will ensure that the genetics of the Southern leopards are likely to be strengthened as ‘Tsavo’ is likely to earn mating rights with the females that hold territories in this section of Karongwe if he successfully pushes out ‘Scar’. In the meantime, until either ‘Tsavo’ or ‘Scar’ is killed, emigrate through the fence (very possible with leopards!), or one shows total submission to the other, the leopard dynamics are going to remain very interesting and instable. But then again, we know so little about leopards in reality and they definitely don’t always ‘read the rule books’. We have heard of recent sightings of two male leopards mating with one female in presence of one another without obvious animosity! Check out the incredible video!
A fascinating pattern is emerging with ‘Tsavo’s’ movements. He has not ventured north of the most central river system on Karongwe since we’ve been tracking him. This was always assumed to be ‘Scar’s’ northern-most territorial boundary. The territory holder to the North of this river, who we think is a huge leopard known as ‘Xipuku’ (the Ghost), is possibly too powerful for ‘Tsavo’ to take on. As it stands, ‘Tsavo’ seems to have taken over the northern half of what was ‘Scar’s’ territory and is in the process of challenging ‘Scar’ for the remainder.

Here’s a short video of the two parallel walking. The leopard crossing the road is ‘Tsavo’. ‘Scar’ is sat down in the vegetation to the left, snarling. Notice how ‘Tsavo’ accelerates toward ‘Scar’ forcing ‘Scar’ to get up and parallel walk in the background. You also hear a Baboon sounding the alarm – understandably upset at the sight of these two large predators!

Every day we set out to track ‘Tsavo’, we do so with heightened anticipation for yet more fascinating sightings and data. Invariably, he stays well hidden for a lot of the time, but with yet more kills, territorial disputes and hopefully mating sessions on the horizon, we are in store for lots of excitement!

Andreas Fox
Limpopo and KZN Program Coordinator
GVI South Africa