What a crazy couple of days it has been…lions eating buffalo, three leopards mating at the same time… the only word I have for this is, WOW! But that is not where it stops. We again found our leopards, now minus the younger female, still mating. This is far from unusual, as the big cats tend to mate for an average of five days, every 15 minutes. The dominant male from the eastern section of the reserve and the female who we regularly see throughout the northern section were still going strong. They mated every 5 minutes or so until they ended up getting tired and the pace then slowed down to every 15 minutes.
We followed them for almost 2 hours as they moved from place to place, the female approaching the male with her tail up, she would rub herself against him a few times before laying down and waiting for him. The act itself is very short but the success comes from the regularity of the event.
The cats have relatively weak sperm and this is due to thousands of years of inbreeding, therefore they must mate continuously to ensure successful fertilisation of the female’s precious eggs. Unlike humans, who produce eggs on a regular basis and then discard them if they are not fertilised, this in nature would be a complete waste of energy. Instead, our female leopard will come into oestrus (heat) and the male will pick this up through chemical and hormonal markers in her urine. She will move around her territory calling and marking territory constantly, leaving a trail for her suitor to follow. Once he has found the female they will begin to mate frequently and this is a very tense and violent affair.
The male has barbs on his penis, which when retracted from the female, hooks in and hurts her. She often swings around trying to swat him because of the pain he is causing. While he is busy he bites her neck to hold her in place until he finishes and then jumps off her once he has ejaculated to ensure that her claws don’t injure him. This sounds brutal but the truth of the matter lies in the old adage, “no pain, no gain”. The barbs actually stimulate her to ovulate, meaning that without this pain she would never have cubs.
This is nature’s response to a female falling into oestrus and having no male to mate with. She would then waste precious energy producing eggs that had no chance of being fertilised. WOW, isn’t nature amazing! This female will now fall pregnant and in 110 days she will give birth to a litter of cubs. So in mid March 2012 we should have some new additions at Sabi Sabi.