The argument as to which male leopard is most deserving of the ‘greatest leopard ever’ title has been ongoing for many years now within the ranging team at Londolozi. Some of the more recent additions to the team are in awe of the brawny Marthly male and his prowess as a fighter, while others are of the opinion that the Tugwaan male, with his good looks and success with female leopards is the clear favourite. However, some of the longer standing rangers have not forgotten the Camp Pan male and his incredible 7 year reign over a massive territory that spanned almost half of Londolozi – a huge territory in an area with one of the highest density of leopards in the world.
He is now almost 14 years old, and it is obvious that he is being forced to consolidate, and focus on a much smaller area, with pressure being felt on all sides by other younger males. Mating rights is one on the reasons why male leopards are so fierce in their endeavor for dominance, and we all wondered if his time as a dominant breeding male was drawing to a close. However, perhaps it is not quite time to count him out just yet.
He was seen very recently lying in a marula tree with the remains of an impala hoisted in the top branches, and on closer inspection it became apparent that he was staring intently into a thicket below him, a thicket concealing the tiny new cubs of the Tamboti female. Although she had mated with several males during her estrus cycle 3 months prior to their birth, it was clear that she was convinced that the Camp Pan male was the father of these new additions to the famous Sunset Bend lineage. She led them directly under the tree, and the somewhat smug looking male leapt down to investigate the tumbling balls of fur. In a rather uncharacteristic display of tolerance at a kill, he allowed the female to climb into the tree and coax the cubs up after her – their first experience of a solid meal of meat.
After a number of attempts to scale the large marula, they finally made it up, but rapidly decided that they were way too high up for their liking and after much mewing and clambering from branch to branch, they both tumbled unceremoniously head first into a bush, just meters from the Camp Pan male’s huge head. The Tamboti female, somewhat resigned to her offspring’s arboreal clumsiness, led them to suckle in the shade nearby.
So it seems the big old male is not ready to back down in the constant struggle for territory and rights to father cubs, and let us not forget his impressive past. He has already fathered over 15 litters to at least 6 different females and his fighting records are just as impressive. The last time the Dudley 5:5 male challenged him, the younger, inexperienced leopard was discovered cowering up a telephone pole on our eastern boundary. The last time the Marthly male challenged him, the slightly smaller male was left with a tear in his ear that resembles the aftermath of a lawnmower accident. The Tugwaan male learned his lesson years ago, and keeps out Camp Pan’s path, disappearing into the Tugwaan drainage at the first sign of his imposing northern neighbour.
What ever challenges face this leopard in the future, the present is clear. He is a father… again, and his familiar territorial calls and long trails of footprints left behind on the pathways from his nightly patrols, indicates that he is more than up to the challenge of protecting this new litter, and any others that happen to come along…
Written by Helen Young
Photographed by Cathy Thornhill and Jo Lynne Jones – Londolozi guests