There’s a leopard that lived on Londolozi that has the most bizarre and beautiful story.  It begins with him being adopted by his grandmother as a cub, later caring for her in her old age and sadly ends with him being killed by the Tsalala Pride. The books teach us that leopards are strictly solitary, only meeting to mate, fight or when they have cubs. This particular story is the complete antithesis of this though. He was a leopard that taught us that the secret lives of these cats are far more complex and intriguing than we had imagined possible and so in memory of him, I’d like to recount the details of his astonishing story.

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The Dudley Riverbank 5:5 male is Londolozi royalty, a part of the Mother Leopard bloodline, the leopards that have made Londolozi what it is today. He was born in a litter of two to the Dudley Riverbank Female in 2006 and about three months later her mother, the 3:4 female had a litter of her own.
One day, these two females were on separate kills on a section of the Sand River, quite close to each other, when it seems they must have crossed paths, and something strange occurred…

Ranger Tom Imrie was returning back to camp one evening soon after and quite unexpectedly the form of a female leopard appeared in his spotlight. They identified her as the 3:4 female and as she crossed the road, they noticed her young cub tagging behind. Quite astonishingly, a few steps behind them trotted out another cub, only this one was three months older! The 3:4 female turned around and hissed at this young leopard but he continued to follow her and her biological cub, seemingly unperturbed. Two days later the trio was found together again, except this time the grandmother was grooming the new addition to her litter and from that day on these two leopards didn’t separate again for another three years.

Dudley Riverbank 5:5 Young Male

As a youngster the 5:5 male was known for his antics and Helen Young, a Londolozi ranger at the time, remembers how on one occasion he stole a picnic blanket from under the nose of a rather confused chef who was sent into the bush to set up an alfresco lunch. Helen laughs, saying that “the blanket was sighted again… but in five pieces and up three different trees”. She remembers another time a tracker rather foolishly took off his jacket while following the Dudley Riverbank male’s tracks, and after a long and unsuccessful morning, returned to the tree in which he had hung it. “He was met by the leopard, capering around in the top-most branches of the self-same tree, very pleased with his new coat… It took four days before we could retrieve it”, said Helen.

Melvin Sambo, one of Londolozi’s most experienced rangers, says that one of his favourite sighings ever involved this young cub. It was a sighting in which they saw six leopards all together on one kill! The group included the 3:4 female, her daughter the Dudley Riverbank female, their two litters of cubs as well as the cub’s father, known as the Tugwaan male. Melvin says the Dudley Riverbank male was incredibly relaxed around vehicles as a cub and he gave much joy to Londolozi’s guests and staff during these early years of his life.

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The 5:5 male strolls past Ranger Talley Smith and a group of Londolozi guests. From years of being photographed, there must be thousands of photographs of this particular leopard scattered across the globe. Photograph by James Tyrrell

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The Dudley Riverbank 5:5 male patrolling through his territory. Although male leopards typically establish a territory far from where they were born, this male never strayed too far from his birth place. Photograph by James Tyrrell

Upon independence he wandered only slightly north of his mother and grandmother’s territories, apparently not wanting to drift too far from home. This is rather strange behaviour for a young male leopard because it meant that he stayed right in the heart of his father’s territory and quite literally challenged this much older and stronger male to the right to the area. Despite his rather foolhardy attempts, he lost in an epic fight to the Tugwaan male and subsequently moved east over our boundary. In the space of one day, Londolozi rangers and guests went from spending countless hours with this particular male to not seeing him at all. 

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He did eventually come back though and went on to fight with the Camp Pan, Marthly and Emsagwen males. For a while it looked as though he was set to oust the Camp Pan male from central Londolozi, and indeed during the early and middle parts of 2011 it certainly looked as though this was inevitable. Then the Camp Pan male got granted a lifeline with the disappearance of the Emsagwen male in the east, as the DRB 5:5 male moved east to claim this vacant area. We didn’t see him much after this, only occasionally bumping into him as he skirted round the fringes of Londolozi, but his rasping call would regularly be heard east of our boundary.

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The 5:5 male’s eye after he lost sight in it. It must have affected his depth perception abilities and yet this leopard still managed to hunt for himself, proving the resilience of these creatures. Photograph by Amy Attenborough

One of the most incredible things he did as an adult leopard though was to share some of his carcasses with his ageing grandmother, the 3:4 female, who by that stage was struggling to hunt for herself. This is unheard of behaviour in the usually secretive world of these solitary cats. Although male and female leopards are sometimes found on kills together, it is usually because the males have bullied their way into the situation, and once they have appropriated the carcass it is very unusual to see them share. Here though the female could never have forced herself on this stronger male and it seems that the bond which formed between them during the male’s infancy and adolescence, remained throughout his life.

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The 5:5 male after catching a warthog piglet. This male is renowned for rather strangely having shared his kills with his now deceased grandmother when she was old and frail. Photograph by Trevor McCall- Peat

Although we only ever saw this male sporadically once he’d reached maturity, he is one that we respect greatly. Despite losing sight in one eye he survived and continued to fend for himself regardless, and carved himself a territory despite being surrounded by numerous very strong male leopards. Sadly the final chapter of this male’s life is a tragic one and about two weeks ago, he was killed by the Tsalala pride of lions. Although we found him already injured, the tracks showed that he was ambushed and severely mauled by the two adult lionesses that have been secreting cubs in the rocky outcrops along the Manyelethi Riverbed. Judging by his wounds it must have been an intense and prolonged battle. He was outnumbered and outsized and eventually succumbed to his wounds later that same day.

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The Dudley Riverbank male’s story is one that epitomises the inherently tough, intriguing and complex life of these incredible cats. He gave countless people moments of great joy and most importantly proved that no matter how many hours you spend with leopards, you can never really be sure what these cats may do. For us, he showed that maybe the bonds between these solitary cats runs deeper than we previously imagined possible and we’re so fortunate to have caught glimpses of him at various stages of his journey. Although he spent much of his life away from Londolozi, his story began here and ended full circle here and he’ll go down in our books as a true Londolozi legend.

Filed under Leopards Wildlife

About the Author

Amy Attenborough

Media Team

Amy has a rich field-guiding history, having spent time at both Phinda and Ngala Game Reserves. This diversity of past guiding locations brought her an intimate understanding of different biomes across South Africa, and she immediately began making a name for herself as ...

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22 Comments

on Lions Kill Leopard: A Tribute To The Dudley Riverbank 5:5 Male
    Ann Seagle says:

    Sad story. Well told. Very special. Thank u.

    Warren Pearson says:

    Great tribute Amy. Sad to hear of his passing.

    Robert Levy says:

    Thanks Amy for the story. Thanks also for the best safari experience. Want to shoot again with you!

    MJ Bradley says:

    Another of our mighty warriors has passed into memory. I heard this story of his being adopted by his grandmother from Brent Leo-Smith a guide for WildEarth. He was a special leopard that is for sure.. Thank you for sharing the story of this wonderful leopard..

    Tim Musumba says:

    That’s a nice story with a sad ending.Any idea how he lost sight in one eye?!

    Tim Musumba says:

    Nice story about the relationship of this male leopard and his grandmother albeit with a sad ending!Any idea what happened to his eye?!Sad that the Tsalala Lionesses attacked him and i guess he must have been caught off guard with no safety of trees around to climb!

    sau says:

    how sad , just to show you there is always something new we learn like this leopard who shared his kill with his grandmom. what a shame he seemed too young to die.

    Lynne says:

    Such an interesting story about a beautiful animal !

    Oscar says:

    RIP great warrior!

    Audrey Kubie says:

    What a wonderful story and tribute to a magnificent animal, in so many aspects. Can someone tell me what the numbers mean (i.e. 3:4 female) when mentioning a particular leopard? Thanks!!!

    Ed Hubbard says:

    What a marvelously written tribute. I am sad to say my wife and I were traveling with Mike Karantonis and we were the ones who discovered the badly injured DRB male. He was still breathing, but not moving. We stayed with him for a while then departed. When we returned a couple of hours later he had dragged himself about 20 meters from where we first sighted him. He never gave up without a fight. He was no longer breathing. It was the saddest day we have spent on safari.

    Jill Larone says:

    I’m so sorry to hear the sad news. Such a great loss and so sad that the DRB male died in such a tragic way. It sounds like he was a very special Leopard who lived an incredible, but too short life.

    Tony Goldman says:

    Fabulous story and tribute.

    Stuart Manford says:

    Thank you for sharing, beautiful story of a beautiful animal

    Cynthia House says:

    There is so much we don’t know about these elusive and enigmatic animals, my favourites of all the big cats. This leopard lived his life well leaving such memories that are wonderful to read, thank you for sharing yours.

    Gill Cederwall says:

    What a beautiful post. So sad but truly wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

    tom and Kate says:

    Great tribute! Well written Amy!
    Memories galore…. sad and grateful for all the time spent with a Londolozi Leopard. Xxx

    Anna Lee says:

    As was asked a couple of times above, I’m yearning to know how this magnificent one became blind.

    If you can’t explain it briefly for us, is it possible for you to share a link to a different blog post where that part of his story is revealed?

    My heart is soooo sad about this turn of events. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it for several days. My heart is heavy and yet I’m inspired by his uniqueness at the same time.

    If you possibly can, please share with us how the Dudley Riverbank 5:5 lost his vision.

    With Heartfelt Appreciation, As Always!

    James Tyrrell says:

    Hi Anna Lee,

    No-one is entirely sure what happened to his eye, at least not that I’m aware. I’ve heard various theories, from a spitting cobra to a fight with another leopard, both of which are plausible. I will ask around and if I find something definite I will let you know.
    James

    Anna Lee says:

    Thank you so much, James.

    You’re awesome!!

    MJ Bradley says:

    The 3:4 numbers are the number of spots above the whiskers on each side.. they are rather unique to each cat

    Alan Pollard says:

    I look forward every day to receiving your blog – it is responsible more than anything else for calling me back to Africa to see, in the flesh, the wonderful wildlife that your excellent pictures portray. My wife Lesley and I will be back in the Sabbi Sand region in early February and we arrive in Londolozi on 8th February. We are looking forward very much to meeting many of you again and to enjoying the rich diversity of your exceptional Game Reserve. Alan

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