Not for the easily offended

Trip Start Jul 23, 2002
Trip End Jul 23, 2003

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Monday, May 26, 2003

Just when you think you are getting into a routine, something comes along to completely throw that idea out of the window and to stuff up sleep patterns once more, after all who needs more than 4 hours sleep a day. For us it was the leopard matings. Leopard matings are one of the feature research projects here at the reserve and when the leopards start mating, it brings about a sudden 24 hour watch for 3-5 days, with 6 hour shifts each time, plus the normal research has to continue as well which makes for a nightmare of a roster. Suddenly all plans are out the window and if you're not doing the normal activities, or getting some sleep, you're out watching something very few people get to see - leopard matings.

We've been hearing about the leopard matings since we arrived, with the staff not so keen on having it happen for a while, after a week of it last phase, but all us volunteers were quite keen to see what all the fuss is about. So when we heard that Cailey had started watching the male Roelani with one of the uncollared females Amanzi, we were quite keen to get out there and see, despite the 10pm to 4am, and 4am to 10am shifts. I went out on the 4am shift and after an hour of searching for him again, we finally got close enough to record some mating data, and then once it got light, the leopards kindly moved to where we could see them and we got some good visuals of them both sitting in the sunshine and mating.

The following is not for those who are easily offended.....

The matings themselves are a rather rapid affair, but what they don't have in longevity, they make up for in repetition. The matings themselves last for about 4 seconds with a bit of roaring and then the occasional swipe at the other party afterwards, followed by the female rolling. The female normally initiates the event with a lot of rubbing around the male, often with her tail draped across him, with lots of purring to let him know she's there, followed by him actually paying some attention and getting involved, albeit for a short time. But like I said the individual event may be quite short, but it's made up for with frequency as between 10pm Monday and 4am Thursday they'd mated more than 280 times (and that's just the ones we saw or heard). Not a too shoddy effort, especially when you consider they are going at all hours for four or so days straight.

It's been a great opportunity to get to watch something so different, and we've been very lucky to get some great visuals of the leopards, which can be incredibly hard to see at the best of time. The female used to be collared, but it came off, and so she hasn't been seen for about a year, just because they can be so hard to find, even when you know they're within 10m of you, you often can't see them. Trying to follow them as they move through the bush can be quite challenging as they just seem to disappear and it takes a movement before you can actually pick them up again. On several occasions we've been driving and known they're just ahead somewhere but not seen them until we're 10m away and suddenly you can make their form out in the grass ahead (and make sure you stop the ute so as not to run them over!)

On Thursday the matings came to an end, and the female leopard was darted and taken back to the KERI base where she had an implant placed into her abdomen so that we can track her in the future and see where she goes, and how her cubs are coming along. Once again we were very lucky to get to watch the operation and to see a leopard up close once more. They are definitely amazing looking creatures with beautiful markings, and when they shaved her abdomen you could see the black spots on her skin, matching up with the black spots in the fur.

We've definitely had some great leopard sightings in our time here so far, but I think right now we are happy to get back to normal routine, and semi-regular sleep patterns.
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