The Camp Pan Male – Hunter or Scavenger?

by on March 14, 2012

in Leopards, Photography, Wildlife

The Camp Pan male leopard is somewhat of a legend at Londolozi. Born in December 2000, he has dominated much of the area for a number of years and sired many cubs. He is one of the easiest of Londolozi’s leopards to identify as he has a scar (black line) beneath his right eye. His size is also a clear giveaway as well as his 4:3 spot pattern.

Camp Pan Male Portrait

The Camp Pan male basking in the afternoon sun. Notice the scar beneath his right eye, a feature by which he is easily identified

I remember when I first arrived in the Sabi Sand, the Camp Pan male had a reputation as being the largest leopard in the area and I was desperate to see him. He remains the largest leopard I have had the privilege of seeing and, even as he moves into his twilight years, his sheer size makes him a force to be reckoned with. I had to wait a good few months, but the wait was definitely worth it, as my first sighting of him remains one of the most exciting I have ever had.

A pack of wild dogs had killed, and were feeding on, a young waterbuck just south of the Sand River at Taylor’s crossing. Unbeknown to them, the Camp Pan male was lying in wait in the sedge along the river bank and we spotted him as we crossed the river, making our way towards the wild dogs. Next thing, a hyena stuck its head out of the bushes close to where the dogs were feeding, likely having heard the commotion when the waterbuck was killed. Trying to defend their kill, the wild dogs all turned to chase the hyena. The Camp Pan male spotted his gap and charged towards the remains of the young waterbuck, grabbed it, and made for a large Jackal Berry tree (Diospyros mespiliformis) a couple of metres away. This all happened in a matter of seconds. The wild dogs seemed completely stunned. They ran around the base of the tree a couple of times and then disappeared upstream.

Camp Pan on Hindquarters

Running away with the carcass he stole from the wild dogs.

Camp Pan hoisting carcass

The Camp Pan male hoisting the carcass of a young waterbuck.

Camp Pan Male

The Camp Pan male with the spoils of his raid safely hoisted in a Jackal Berry tree, out of reach of the wild dogs. His facial expression says it all.

At this stage, the Camp Pan Male was 9 years old and in his prime. At the time I didn’t think much of the fact that he had scavenged a kill and thought he was simply being opportunistic. I would later learn, however, that this leopard has a habit of scavenging kills, especially from other leopards.

Camp Pan Portrait

Showing the scars of a territorial battle with the Dudley Riverbank 5:5 young male. He has managed to hang onto this territory that he was defending.

In the past two weeks, he has robbed both the Mxabene 3:2 young male and the Mxabene female of their impala kills. This trend made me wonder what was causing this seemingly unusual behaviour, as we always consider leopards to be more of a predator than a scavenger. My first thought was that, at a touch over 11 years, he was possibly past his prime and having difficulty hunting his own prey. He could have therefore turned to scavenging to supplement his diet. If, however, you spend any amount of time watching this leopard go about his daily wanderings, you will soon realise that he is hardly past his prime and is still very capable of hunting.

Camp Pan with Impala Kill

Claws hooked in to the impala kill he stole from the Mxabene female

Camp Pan Dragging Impala Kill

After robbing his son, the Mxabene 3:2 young male of an impala kill, the Camp Pan male dragged the remains into a thicket on the bank of the Sand River to avoid the unwelcome attention of vultures and a loitering hyena

After more careful consideration, I came to the conclusion that it all comes down to the fact that leopards are both extremely adaptable and opportunistic. I have no doubt that the reason he scavenges so many kills is that he can! Being solitary animals, leopards can’t afford to be injured, otherwise they risk losing their ability to hunt. This implies that if challenged by a large leopard, such as the Camp Pan male, other leopards would rather give up their kill than defend it and risk being injured.

This works both ways, in that every time a leopard hunts, it risks being injured. The Camp Pan male has likely learned that other leopards will usually submit to him and as such it is less risky for him to rob them of their kills than to hunt animals himself.

Camp Pan Male Leopard

Snarling at a hyena who happened to get a bit too close to him. It is not uncommon for hyenas to follow other predators in the hope of scavenging a kill. Usually the scavenger, it seems that this time the Camp Pan male was on the receiving end.

I find this fascinating, as we often put animals in boxes. Hyenas are regarded as scavengers and leopards and lions are seen to be hunters. The bottom line is that the sole objective of these animals is to survive from day to day to enable them to procreate and have as many offspring as possible. This ensures that their genes are carried forward and the species continues. This principle should always be considered when interpreting animal behaviour, as they will usually pursue the safest and most reliable option. In the case of the Camp Pan male, this means rather scavenging kills than making his own.

I would be interested to hear what your thoughts are regarding my interpretation of this behaviour. Please feel free to leave your comments below.

Written and photographed by James Crookes


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  • Jens

    I totally agree with your conclution: that he found out that it is easy for him to scare off other predators and steal their kill than to hunt for himself. He is like all of us. If you can get a free meal why not eat it.

    You say that you can recognise him on his 4:3 spot pattern. I have never heard this before. Can you please explain what this means?

    • James Crookes

      Jens, we often refer to spot patterns as this is one of the means by which we identify the different leopards. When we talk about a spot pattern, we mean the number of spots on the leopard’s cheek, above the top row of whiskers, ie. the upper most row of spots on his cheek. If we say 4:3, we mean 4 spots on the right and 3 on the left. If you look at the portrait shots, you should be able to see this. Most leopards will have a unique spot combination, however this is not always the case. I hope that helps a bit.

      • Rich Laburn

        Jens, you can also find out more about the spot patterns and Leopards of Londolozi through this link: http://www.londolozi.com/leopards/ – Let us know if you would like any further information. rich

  • Anna

    Fabulous James! Thanks for that

  • Geri Potter

    OK, first, I love these animals. I am crazy nuts about them all and I do tend to…’anthropomorphize’ them (THANKS Tally for reintroducing the word into my vocabulary) always….
    It IS difficult to try to understand what thought processes go through an animal’s brain ANYTIME, because we aren’t on their level and haven’t been forever…but James is correct, Camp Pan is BOTH…he’s a cat…cats are opportunistic, always have been, always will be. Still love them, but your average household Tom is no different than Camp Pan…he’ll scarf the tuna you left out for dinner as eagerly as he’ll hunt a mouse! Love them all! Better to watch Camp Pan though!

    • James Crookes

      While we are anthropomorphising, I wonder how the Camp Pan male would feel about being compared to an average household tom? Thanks for the comment Geri.

      • Rich Laburn

        Im sure he’d probably regard it with a smirk on his face and a dismissive flick of his tail :-)

  • Patsy Weingart

    I so hope that we get the chance to see this bad boy when we visit this summer. Of all of the animals he is at the top of my list.

    • James Crookes

      We would love to show him to you Patsy, he is still one of my favorite leopards! Just yesterday afternoon I was sitting with him thinking about what an amazing specimen he is. We’ll do our best.

  • Jenny

    What a great story and photographs, James. I agree with you completely: Why? Because he can!
    He is magnificent – that thick solid neck and boxy square face have me in awe every time. (I believe he is Shangwa’s brother – and she’s also particularly large for a female.)

    • James Crookes

      Thanks Jenny. Were Camp Pan and Shangwa from the same litter? Shangwa is definitely the largest female leopard I have ever seen, so it would make sense. The Tavangumi female (Camp Pan and Shangwa’s mother) wasn’t particularly large, but I suppose these genes come from the Wallingford male (their father).

      • Rich Laburn

        I am also interested to hear more about the relation between Camp Pan and Shangwa. If anyone has any information on this, please let us know by replying to this comment thread. rich

        • Shardool Kulkarni

          Shangwa is Tavangumi’s cub from a previous litter (November 1998). She and Camp Pan are half-siblings – Camp Pan’s father is the Wallingford Male while Shangwa’s father is reportedly Mbombi according to some websites. Got this info from Idube game reserve’s website and from a Flickr Group.

  • Alistair Swartz

    tend to agree with you crooksie. watched a leopard try and catch a warthog. she got it wrong and the tusk when through into her stomach. we saw her a few times after that and her conition was worsening. eventually we never saw her again. one can only think that her injury got the better of her. if you know you are dominant, why take the risk when you dont have to.

    • James Crookes

      Thanks for the loyal support Ali! I’m sure you’re right. A similar thing happened to a leopard early last year in the western Sabi Sand. A mother warthog attacked the Mambiri 2:2 female after she killed a piglet. She ended up having front paw that was completely torn and she ultimately died.

  • Gavin

    My favourite, massive presence. He received that scar under his right eye by the kinky tail male off Elmons Kraal.

    • James Crookes

      Thanks Gavin, that’s great to know. I will slip that information into our leopard profiles.

  • Sheena

    Qui audet adipiscitur – he who dares wins – and if we were to anthropomorphize more about his behaviour – who doesn’t know a chap who relies on others to get his supper – from time to time ? !!!

  • Alex

    Adaptable like water.
    Cam pan preserves a considerable size, despite his age, so it is easier to intimidate smaller leopards instead of hunting.
    I’d be curious to know if it is still estimated at close to 90 kilograms Cam pan, because it can vary its mass over the years?

  • Francis

    Hi, James. Is he as big as the late Emsagwen male leopard? Thanks.

    • Rich Laburn

      Hi Francis, when last I saw the Emsagwen male he was looking enormous, however I personally think that Camp Pan is a bigger male leopard.

  • alice

    He is baddy, but I love him.

  • Rosie

    I think they all do it given the opportunity, Mufufunyane was well known for stealing other’s kills, especially poor old Safari’s !!

  • Vittorianna Manzari

    simply inescapable! simply marvelous! simply indescribable! should be there, in order to understand the emotion! I want to come back in South Africa more than anything else in the world.