If your planning to do a spot of leopard tracking whilst staying at Okonjima you may be some of the lucky ones to see MJ, either in action taking down dinner or being the perfect mother.
MJ, short for Maha Junior, was born in Okonjima in November 2000. Her father, Tyson, and mother Maha, were the first leopards to be collared in the reserve, but they stayed wild, illusive cats, and seldom sighted. MJ and her sibling TJ (Tyson Junior) were used to seeing cars from a very small age and were the first leopards in the 200km² Okonjima Nature Reserve to tolerate human presence and game drive vehicles – completely stress-free and completely accepting of our presence.
After four litters, MJ is known to be the perfect mother, always keeping her cubs in excellent condition. The female leopard may spend nearly half of its life caring for young cubs, with birthing intervals between 15 months to 2 years. We know that when she disappears into the mountains it is to give birth, and find a suitable den where she and her cubs will not be disturbed.
Her latest cub was born at the end of March 2013, the same week her brother TJ died from a leopard attack. MJ showed the cub to us for the first time in May. We believe that Mafana, one of our biggest male leopards, is the father. The two have been mating on several occasions and Mafana has been seen with MJ and her cub. He is most likely also the father of her previous litter, a male and a female, called Bwana and Ishara. The siblings, now turning 3 years, are collared and thriving in the reserve. MJ’s first litter in 2005, the females Oprah and Winfrey, only lived to be 2 years old, sadly killed by a territorial female leopard called Monica Lewinsky. Four years later, she had another female cub Oshiwa, killed by a leopard unknown to us, at the age of 3.
MJ has lost three cubs out of six, which statistics show is normal among leopards. According to research, cub mortality rates during the first year may be as high as 50 percent and for sub-adults (1.5 – 3.5 year old) survival was estimated to be 32 percent, twice as high as the mortality rate for adults. This is mainly due to dense lion and hyena populations in the area and in the case of Okonjima Nature Reserve, a dense leopard population.
MJ is an awesome cat. Very relaxed, yet always on the look-out for danger. Despite being a small (only 32 kg), 13-year old female, she is a fierce hunter and will go from resting to making a warthog kill in a split second.
Always calm around vehicles, and showing her cubs that there is nothing to fear. It is a unique experience to have been able to follow in MJ’s footsteps for 13 years and very rare for a collared leopard to be so comfortable around humans. She is by far the most sighted female leopard in the reserve, with an average of 40 percent of all leopard sightings. What a treat for everyone visiting Okonjima Nature Reserve to see this amazing cat.
Read the full article on the AfriCat Website.