It’s turning out to be a month of goodbyes. The Vomba Female hasn’t been seen in over 6 weeks and her large footprints no longer grace the sandy tracks across Sparta.
I remember little of my 6 months in law school other than a person has to be missing for 5 years before they are officially declared dead. If a fabulously wealthy and crazy widower endowed a fortune onto a pedigreed Persian I’m guessing that a court would suggest 6 months would be sufficient for presumption of death. I think for Vomba we’ll accept that 8 weeks is an all-too unusual absence and pay her, her respects now.
Vomba was the first leopard that hissed at me. As a nervous young guide, she singled me out of three other landrovers and gave me an unforgettable warning. I like to think that she realised I was new and set her boundaries early so as to avoid any insensitive intrusion later on. As a result I’ve always accorded her a great deal of respect and cherished the moments that she allowed me with her.
Long faced, long tailed and amber gold rather than yellow, Vomba was a Londolozi Leopard more than any other. I say that with conviction because as the way female leopard territories work themselve’s out she treated camp as part of her fiefdom. Regularly over the years she walked through camp, slinking along the pathways, visiting gardens and setting monkeys and bushbuck to alarm much the way a gang of youths might disturb cars on a Friday night for kicks. She killed in camp too and her last hoisted bushbuck in the sausage tree off of the Granite Camp Deck had the guests eating in a respectful hush lest they trigger off some growling from the darkness a few metres beyond the balustrade.
She was a daughter of the SunsetBend female and inherited that uncanny knack for getting cubs to adulthood. She was a good mother that was always harsh on her young once they turned one. It reads in a book somewhere that leopards look after their daughters for 22 months on average and their sons 24 months. Vomba thought 12 to 14 months was adequate and on 3 occasions proved right. If the absence of Egyptian geese around Taylors dam is anything to go by her 14 month old youngster and fourth success, is doing just fine.
For the record: her first offspring was the Trogon Female (not familiar to many and territorial beyond Londolozi), then Tuthlwa Female and a Male who dispersed, relatively recently Mashaba and now the Vomba Young Male: Great Leopards, great genetics and a grand inheritance. I read recently about inheritance within the animal kingdom and that it is confined to territory. In a battle of survival of the fittest, fit animals leave behind advantageous areas in which to thrive. Whether her offspring are as regular within camp as she was remains to be seen but having just lost all my tomato plants to a bushbuck I certainly hope so.
We are of course in danger of being premature with her disappearance. She could have found a way to eat all the otters in the Sand River and decided to become more aquatic in her habits. She might also have left the young male to get on with his own devices. For a while we’ll do the Elvis thing and speculate that we’re tracking her – or that the female in the half-light it was actually her. A resurrection would be wonderful but I’m taking Richard Ferrier’s understated declaration: “I’m worried” to heart.
There is a territorial shift on the go and her absence is causing a slight reshuffle amongst the females. It will be interesting to see who goes where – but more than anything I’ll miss Vomba tremendously: No more sunlit afternoons to pay homage to her special coat and no more special garden visits. Rest well and thank you…
Written by Tom Imrie