As soon as volunteers arrive here at Dumela Lodge, they learn very soon how leopard crazy most of us are here. This is with very good reason though! We live in the Limpopo province which contains 63% suitable leopard habitat and 32% of South Africa’s entire suitable habitat (Swanepoel, 2012). With this in mind our leopard project is one of our largest focuses here in Greater Kruger. We are very fortunate with our leopard sightings and have had the privilege to monitor many different leopards across many reserves. By the time most volunteers leave the project they have learned just how magnificent and elusive these beautiful creatures are.
This past month has held many exciting developments regarding some of our almost celebrity status leopards here. First, we have a new male leopard that has been identified in our Guernsey Project. This leopard, now coded as MBL5, was originally an unknown male we captured on a camera trap on a different property way back in January 2016. This male was unidentifiable at the time and we thought maybe he was a nomadic male just passing through, but it turns out he’s back again! Just a few weeks ago the volunteers got a great sighting of him crossing right in front of the vehicle as they were on Night drive! Then a week later we had our confirmation that this was the same male when he was captured crossing a drainage line where one of our camera traps was located. As we compared the photos from these 2 sightings the team waited with baited breathe to see which male he would be. When it turned out this was a new male we were so thrilled to discover more individuals within the area. Our level of excitement turned into pure joy as we compared these recent photos with our unknown individuals and discovered this individual was the same as one seen Jan of last year! With this new male in the area we are excited to see what develops with MBL5 potentially taking over old territories, access to females, and the many corridors in use.
The other star of the project lately has been a young male named Bundu, or coded CKL61. We have seen him 3 times the past few weeks and he sure has put on a show. Not only has he quickly captured the hearts of the volunteers here, he has been a leopard that we have monitored since he was born early last year. At approximately a year and a half he is already very large for his age but staking a claim for himself within the region. He is extremely relaxed with the vehicles, which allows us to observe behaviors rarely seen with other leopards. Getting to witness a sub-adult leopard learning how to hunt a steenbok and practice his stalking skills gives us an insight into the secretive world of these beautiful animals.
The more time we observe and monitoring these felids, whether it be by camera traps, insane visuals, or through their tracks, the more we grow to understand the behaviors and movements of one of the most enigmatic large megafauna left on the planet.