There is a sound so unique, a sound that slices through the silence of the bushveld, a sound that repeats like clockwork. A sound that, unless you witness the scene unfold, will leave you perplexed yet intrigued.
This sound is so distinctive, that when the varied rumbling growls cut the tension in the air, a pair of mating leopards is sure to be found close by.
I recently managed to spend some time with Ravenscourt and Khokovela, witnessing their full courtship display. After spending a good part of an afternoon tracking these two down on foot, my tracker and I narrowed in on the tracks, hoping to catch the audio of the mating procedure as it would have echoed through a nearby drainage system.
Just before sunset, as the bush fell silent, one of the other guides managed to locate the pair just up ahead of me. We entered the sighting with the two felines still enjoying a break.
Watching a pair of mating leopards is such a memorable occasion. The event usually lasts around four to five days. The mating pair will often copulate multiple times per day for short bursts at a time. This can be an extremely tiring process, so most of the intense action is witnessed during day two, three and sometimes still on day four.
Usually the female will initiate the courtship. She will approach the male with full intent to mate. The female will swoosh in front of the male often using her long, extended tail to entice the male and then expose her genitals to him. She will proceed to lay ahead of him, waiting for his next move. Sometimes she will complete this sequence a few times.
If at this point the male leopard does not get the memo, the female may show signs of irritation and aggression towards him.
When the male finally makes a move, it will not take long to complete the deed. One may expect quite an acrobatic display when the mating comes to completion. Due to the obscure genital structure of the male, the entire process can become quite painful for the female. As the male extracts himself from the female, he can expect retaliation from the female. This is usually met with sharp claws swinging swiftly in his direction. The male will often jump backwards in a kung-fu like maneuver. This can seem quite comical if you do not know what to expect.
The felines will usually go rest not too far from each other once the mating has ensued. This process is bound to happen again within a matter of minutes.
All the noises and sounds are bound to attract other predators. Seeing a hyena or perhaps even another leopard rock up on the scene is not uncommon. It is always exciting to see how the scenario develops and what happens along the way.
What was most interesting was seeing how far Khokovela had moved out of her territory. She most likely started to follow Ravenscourt from the edge of her territory and he simply would not stop walking. These two leopards have not had good fortune in raising a litter together. Both their territories overlap another dominant male leopard, Nyelethi. Nyelethi has unfortunately sniffed out all their cubs in the past.
Hopefully Ravenscourt manages to sire another litter with Khokovela and keep some cubs alive. Gestation is usually around one hundred days for leopards.
Keep an eye out and subscribe to Wild Adventures Blog for the latest updates, as we could be seeing new cubs in early spring.