Although Motswari is home to hundreds of bird species, dozens of different types of reptiles and more than thirty regularly seen mammal species, it is often the big cats that are one of the main attractions to the area. With some 15,000ha of unfenced land to cover, Motswari is resident to a number of large cats that we have come to know intimately over the years, and all of our guides take great delight in sharing sightings of these special creatures with their guests.
Due to the nature of these large cats inside an unfenced reserve, these animals are prone to wander great distances, sometimes moving beyond our borders and out of our concession. However, with over 3,000,000ha of nature reserves around us (we traverse the Timabavati and Umbabat Game Reserves), there is always the chance of being surprised by new arrivals into our area, which makes it one of the most exciting aspects of living and working in such a large, open system.
Of the three large cat species found at Motswari, it is probably the leopards that have made our guests smile the most over the years. Although we are never sure exactly how many leopards we have in our reserve at any one time, there are at least 18 identified leopards in our region, and a number of timid, unknowns too. We are really spoilt with our selection of leopards, and because of their relaxed and confident nature, we are provided with many rewarding viewing opportunities as a result.
At present, there is an unusually strong presence of young male leopards in the area. Normally, these males, with much larger territories, tend to be outnumbered by females (in our area, usually around 4,000-6,000ha). The male leopards that we see most frequently are:
This young male, born in January 2015 and now completely independent of his mother, Nthombi, appears to be setting himself up in our western and central regions. He is a gorgeous cat that is completely relaxed in the presence of vehicles. Our only concern is that other bigger males will move into the same area and put pressure on him to move out into new lands, but for now, he is still with us. His name means “at the leadwood” because he was found hiding in a leadwood tree stump as a tiny cub.
Ntima and Tshwukunyana males
Another of Nthombi’s offspring, Mondzweni, like his brother, is an extremely relaxed male leopard. He shares a birthday in January 2013, with Tshwukunaya, another male sibling. Both leopards have defined textbook behaviours, and, despite being mature males and in direct competition with one another, they still interact on a regular basis. They have even been seen taking turns mating with the same female! Tshwukunyana set himself up very comfortably in the central region of the park, while Ntima ousted the older Machaton male leopard to take over the northern territory, which included the area around our lodge. Since Ntima has moved further north, however, Tshwukunyana seems to have followed him, which means that we now often see the two males in relatively close proximity to one another. Ntima means “black”, whilst Tshwukunyana means “pink” – a reference to the colours of their noses – a great way of telling them apart.
This male dominated the northern reaches until Ntima’s push to the same area, but after 12 years, his reign has come to an end. He hasn’t been seen for several weeks, and we suspect that he might have actually passed on. A notoriously shy cat, he only grew in confidence around the vehicles in the last few years of his life. He was named after the Machaton riverbed that flows through the reserve, an area he used to frequent when he first arrived in the region back in 2008.
Goya Road male
This is the king of the north-west, the biggest leopard in the region, but also an old boy, whose reign will soon be coming to an end. He has his good and bad days in the presence of vehicles, but he too seems to have grown in confidence with age, providing us with good viewing opportunities when he moves into the area (most of his territory is beyond our borders). His unoriginal name was reference to a memorable sighting of him where he was attacked by three male lions on, you guessed it, Goya Road.
Xiviti, our special boy, born in the reserve to Argyle Jnr in January 2012, was always going to be a star with his relaxed disposition. Xiviti is the ruler of the eastern regions, and because it is the least traversed section of the area, he is not seen as regularly as the others. When we do find him, however, he is fantastic value for money. He makes the occasional sojourn up north, but these might become more frequent as Ntima and Tshwukunyana push in from the west. Xiviti was always famous for his fishing antics as a young male leopard. His name means “the brave one”.
Our “least attractive” male in the south-eastern area, has a lower, jutting canine that gave rise to his name that means tooth. He is a big, impressive animal that has grown so much in confidence throughout the past year, that he has become as relaxed as our other, more regularly seen males. Madzinyo provides great viewing opportunities whenever he is seen, but because he ranges far to the south, they are not as often as expected.
There are a number of female leopards in the area too, but they are not seen as often as the males, despite having smaller territories of usually 2,000-3,000ha. Our most regularly viewed lady leopards are:
The queen of the north, with a name that means, “beautiful”, Shongile is one of the most relaxed leopards in the reserve. Her territory is around the lodge, and as such, is a regular visitor to camp late at night. She has just lost her latest cub, killed by one of the new male leopards since the demise of its father, the Machaton male. This has led to Shongile coming back into estrus and mating with Ntima. The hope is that his relaxed genes, combined with hers, will produce even-tempered cubs, something that has only happened once out of the three daughters she has produced. Inkanye female was the only daughter of hers that we even bothered naming, as both Inknaye’s sister and subsequent daughter were extremely shy. Shongile will be ten years old in 2018, but is still going strong.
Named after the marula tree, Inkanye is a gorgeous leopard that has a love of these trees. Born as a brown-eyed beauty, she has fortunately inherited her mother’s relaxed nature and decided to remain within our concession. That being said, she roams more widely than any female leopard we have ever viewed, and will often be found way outside of her usual range when she is in estrus looking for a mate. She has yet to have any cubs, but it is only a matter of time before this happens.
Nthombi is the grand old lady of the south, and the star of the leopard-viewing over the past decade. Having successfully raised five young male leopards in her time, she has definitely left her mark on the future of the reserve. We would just love for her to leave a daughter to carry on her legacy. Although Nthombi, meaning “little girl”, has been a stalwart for our leopard viewing over the years, the drought over past year, has pushed her further south of our concession. As a result, she has become a very rare sighting for us, to the point where we are not even sure if her latest cub is still alive. Despite her small size, she is an excellent huntress and has done her share in controlling the impala populations in the south. She is turning 12 next year, and sad as it is, it does look as though age is slowly catching up on her too. With some luck, she still has a couple of years left in her.
The daughter of the stunning Rockfig Jnr female, Nyelti (“star”) is a tiny little princess that we see occasionally in the south-central regions. Most of her range is beyond our concession, or in seldom traversed areas, but when she does show herself, she lives up to her name. She is also a cubless female right now, but has been seen mating with Madzinyo, so fingers crossed, she produces some cubs in the coming year.
The biggest of Africa’s bigs, and the most iconic of Africa’s mammals, the lions, are always a big draw for tourists. Africa without lions is just not Africa. At Motswari, we have had mixed fortunes with our lions over the years, and gone from having plenty, to having almost none. Lion dynamics in the area are just that – dynamic! At present, we have some very stable lions, due to the presence of a big resident pride in the north, that includes a strong male. This has stabilised the northern sections’ lion viewing, while the south still has its ups and downs.
The Western Pride is our most viewed pride of lions in the area. Their viewing has been so impressive over the last 12 months that we are now proud to call them resident lions in the reserve. Although about half of their territory lies to the north of our concession, they do visit us regularly. and because they are not facing pressure from any other prides in the south, they find themselves very much at home. Despite the fact that one of the pride males died last week, the remaining males are strong, and with three other young males amongst the lions ten pride members, they are a force to be reckoned with. Two of the three mothers appear to be pregnant or have just given birth, which may lead to some changes in the pride, with the six young lions (three females and three males, all three years old) ending up splintering from the pride and moving off to establish themselves in another area. Part of the problem they now face, is finding enough food for ten adult lions, usually not too challenging when the buffalo numbers are strong, but a difficult task now that most the buffalo have died after the drought. Seeing this pride on the move is something guests don’t forget in a hurry.
Ross Pride and Mbiri males
A small pride of two lionesses of the Ross pride origin and two young males seem to be settling as a fixed unit, but are far from being a stable union. They occupy the territory to the south of our concession and visit only occasionally.
The three adult lionesses and three subadults of this pride seem to reside in the Kruger, and visit us from time to time, although seemingly more in summer where come through every couple of weeks. Unfortunately the last few months have seen complete absence of this pride from the area, possibly due to the Western Pride’s dominance.
Calling a lone lioness a pride would be a stretch, but this lone lioness seems to be able to make ends meet under all by herself. We see her (or more often just signs of her) mostly in the eastern sections of the reserve. She ended up alone when her two “brothers”, the Sumatra males, moved off and headed south, and she stayed behind in the area that she became familiar with after the three of them first moved into the area. She attracted the attention of the Machimba males, but theses boys seem to have been ousted and replaced by the Kruger males – two new but very shy males that have come in from the Kruger to the east of us. Time will tell how long they stick around and if they form a pride with her.
The cheetahs are the rarest of the big cats, and ones that we sadly only see very occasionally in Motswari. Again, being an open system, there is always a chance that these elegant, graceful and speedy cats come moving through, but as our landscape is dominated by woodlands rather than the grassland habitat that the cheetahs prefer, they seldom settle for long. Winter tends to be a more likely time to see these spotted beauties, but even then, they might only visit once or twice a month.
We hope you enjoyed reading a little bit about the Cats of Motswari. One thing to always remember about these animals is that, despite being named, they are wild animals, and are left to their own devices in a rather large, open area. We don’t know where they are all the time, but with the assistance of some great skills from our guide and tracker, and a great deal of luck, hopefully you will be able to see some of the special cats that have chosen to make Motswari their home.