It’s a discussion I have had with quite a few people recently: what does “loss” mean to us in the context of the bush? Why should the death of a big cat affect us so deeply, when buffalo are currently being killed by lions at the rate of sometimes more than one per night and we hardly bat an eyelid?

The reasons are fairly obvious, in that we follow the individual predator’s lives, immersing ourselves in their stories, whilst the more common animals like impala just make up the numbers. But should this necessarily be the case? The leopards and lions don’t care about us, and if all the Land Rovers were to one day simply disappear, the lives of the predators of Londolozi – indeed the lives of all creatures here – would continue on as normal.

Yet we find ourselves profoundly moved by the death of an individual predator. And as much as we can debate it back and forth, discussing the appropriateness of our emotions and whether it’s right to feel something for an animal that is most likely devoid of emotion itself – at least emotion in the form that we perceive it – ultimately I still feel that our sense of loss when a predator dies is a good thing. It is part of our connection to the wilderness and the fundamental value we place in the beauty of nature that is touched.
I guess at its core, the ability to mourn for what is lost is part of what actually makes us human.

The 4:4 leopard, the dominant male that roamed an extensive area between the Tugwaan drainage line in the south-west right up to the Manyelethi River in the north, sadly departed this world last week.

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We found him lying in state at Cheetah Pools Pan early one morning, having succumbed to injuries sustained in an encounter with the Mhangeni Breakaway Pride a week or two before. His body was untouched by hyenas or other scavengers, and he had an almost peaceful look on his face. I have no shame in admitting I had a tear in my eye upon seeing him, as did my guests. Alfie Mathebula had seen him at the waterhole the previous day, still alive, and reported that he was not in very good condition; most likely he had some internal injuries that caused him to weaken. Unable to hunt, his condition would have steadily deteriorated until, sometime during the night between when Alfie saw him and we found his body, he would have simply closed his eyes and slipped away.

Of all the animals I have seen come and go during my time at Londolozi, his death has affected me the most. And I don’t really know why.
He was a leopard we hardly ever saw, and it was usually only his rasping call emanating from a deep drainage line that alerted us to his presence. If we hardly ever saw him, how could we (or at least, I) feel such a connection to him? The Mashaba female I have viewed regularly for six years, since she was newly independent. The Nkoveni female I have been viewing since she was barely 24 hours old. Yet it was the 4:4 male, one of Londolozi’s most elusive and shy individuals, that I felt the greatest affinity towards.

44 Plaque Rock

Plaque Rock; an iconic site on Londolozi to view a leopard. A more perfect spot for a leopard like the 4:4 male to be viewed I cannot imagine…

I guess in some ways he served to remind us of the wildest elements of old Africa; an Africa devoid of human presence. His reluctance to be viewed only added to his allure as an enigmatic animal, and whilst other leopards on Londolozi have had their lives recorded in journals and in media throughout the world, the 4:4 male is destined to always occupy a space in the shadow area of the Leopards of Londolozi.

Despite hardly being viewed, he will be sorely missed.

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The discussion as to what happens now, with a huge blank space to be filled in on the map by other males who will be contesting the rights to his territory, I will leave for another day.

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal – Albert Pike

The 4:4 male’s life was for him alone. Fathering cubs, defending territory, hunting, all the things that make up the life of a male leopard.

What he has done for others, and by ‘others’ I mean those of us lucky enough to have viewed him – as oblivious as he may have been to the impact he was having – was to remind us of the true beauty of his species. The iconic elusiveness that defines quintessential Africa for so many. The Africa still shrouded in mystery.

Track by track, call by call and sighting by sighting, the 4:4 male, more than any other leopard during its tenure at Londolozi, served to feed our imaginations as few others have done before him, or likely will again…

Filed under Leopards Wildlife

About the Author

James Tyrrell

Photographic Guide/Media Team

James had hardly touched a camera when he came to Londolozi, but his writing skills were well developed, and he was quickly snapped up by the Londolozi blog team as a result. An environment rich in photographers helped him develop the photographic skills ...

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34 Comments

on An Obituary for an Unknown Entity

Michael Rendell
Guest

Beautifully written and a fitting tribute to a wonderful animal. Privileged to have seen him (very briefly) during our last stay.

Georgel
Guest

It’s hard to not leave a tear for such a beautiful cat. RIP.

Mike Ryan
Guest

James having the privelage of seeing him last year we totally understand. There was somethong missing this week when we visited. Seeing the young mashaba female reminds you that the bush is forever changing and we still need to see the Anderson. He will be missed Mike and Nicki Ryan

James Tyrrell

Hi Mike and Nicki,

Very sad indeed, but that is the harsh reality of the bush.
I think it very likely that the Anderson male will continue to push south now that space has opened up. Hopefully you get to see him next time… 😉

sasha
Guest

brilliant brilliant obituary so heartfelt I didnt even know him till I read the obituary but I feel sad too

Alex
Guest

Incredible,another male leopard killed by lions.You were fearing Tutlwa female might have met the same fate,have you seen her recently?

James Tyrrell

Hi Alex,
I have been on leave for the past few days but as far as I know there have been no sightings of her. Having said that, trackers did report the tracks of a female leopard and cub in the river in front of Pioneer Camp. This could only have been the Tutlwa female as no other leopard in the area would have had a cub old enough to be walking around with her.
I will get in touch with the guys at the lodge and see if there are any updates on her…

Jill Larone
Guest

Beautifully written James. I’m so sorry for the loss of this incredible Leopard.

Lisa
Guest

So sad and yet part of the life in wild Africa….doesn’t make it easier for us to bear. But I love the gorgeous big cats. I love lions and appreciate their strength and majesty. Yet hate how much they bully the other cats.

Tim Musumba
Guest

I was not aware that the 4:4 male had an encounter with the Mhangeni Breakaway pride a week or two before.I never came across such news!I wonder how they caught him off guard because it is not easy for a Lion to catch an adult and fit Leopard off guard and injure him.Most likely he did not get a tree nearby to climb to safety!

James Tyrrell

Hi Tim,
It was a brief encounter apparently; he did manage to get up a tree but the lions had already mauled him by then and it appears his injuries were more substantial than initially suspected.

Tim Musumba
Guest

Thank you James for the reply.I now get the picture of his attack and it is unfortunate that he had serious wounds by the time he managed to climb up to the safety of a tree!

Mary Moy
Guest

The loss of a familiar entity leaves a space in our hearts that will not be filled. My own loss is an everlasting one. I can find solace in lovely memories.

Tim Musumba
Guest

How was it that the 4:4 male was able to be so elusive to the cameras or trackers more than any other Male Leopard?!Maybe it is just a mere coincidence that it was unfortunate to capture him on so many game drives compared to other Males!Was there not some few live recordings of him?!

James Tyrrell

Tim we believe he originated in the Kruger Park, where he would have been unused to being approached by vehicles. As a result whenever he was found, he would tend to try and walk a big loop around us, sticking to the thicket lines, instead of walking past us down the road. In fact he hardly ever used the roads at all, preferring to patrol game paths and riverbeds. As a result, footage and good photographs were hard to come by.
Sometimes two weeks would go by without sightings of him. He had a very large territory, and it was exceedingly difficult to work out where he was going to pop up next!

Laura Eberly
Guest

Beautiful! Thank you as it reminds us all that we touch the world everyday as we go about our lives without realizing the effects we have. Leopards are so magnificent, they always seem to lift me when I am feeling blue.

Madeleine Poulin
Guest

You wrote a very touching obituary for him James, thank You. Do You know if he fathered any cubs to make his genes last?

James Tyrrell

Hi Madeleine,

We are pretty sure he is the father of the Mashaba young female, but considering how far he would rom it is unsure how many other litters he may have sired. We know he has mated with the Nanga female and she is suspected to be denning litter somewhere, but she also mated with the Anderson male, so either could be the father.
I guess our uncertainty as to which litters he may have sired only adds to his mystery…

Jenn Anderson
Guest

That was beautiful…very moving tribute. Thank you for sharing!

Susan Farrington
Guest

What a beautifully written piece. You caught the feeling so well of many of us who have been privileged enough to see these leopards at Lodolozi. You make the point of how antelope and buffalo “make up the numbers”, they are in a way meant meet death on a regular basis, having their place in the balance of carnivore and prey, and we know we will still see them “around the next corner”. The big cats, however, especially the leopards are rare jewels; so elusive, magnificent and full of grace that their loss touches the very heart of our connection to the wildness and freedom of the African bush. And in this modern day where the situation with wild animals teeter so tenuously close to extinction, each loss seems even more tragic, especially one of such a prime breeding age. Deeply felt, even from afar….condolences.

Herman Phua
Guest

That was a very touching obituary. Thanks to Sandros and Equalizer, we had the fortune of an exceptional sighting of the 4:4 male together with the Nkoveni female (when she was still the Young Mashaba female) last year. So sad to hear this news as he was truly an impressive and beautiful leopard.

Jenifer Westphal
Guest

Beautiful James. Poetic and heartfelt words.

Susanna
Guest

Dear James, who am I to acknowledge your ravaged feeling of loss but your words rang out loud & clear across my iPad screen & touched me deeply How about that combination of Wild Nature & World Tech. I’m just so glad that I’ve had the privilege of being on safari with your incredible colleagues chez Londolozi, albeit many moons ago. Cry out loud for the loss you feel. Susan

SJ
Guest

Lisa, what’s the difference when a Lep kills a Serval or Cheetah? It’s what ALL predators do to other predators. it’s called eliminating the competition.

Senior Moment
Guest

A very moving article, perhaps we identify with the predators as we see ourselves as a “top species”?
On a more basic note, it does seem that there has been a heavy mortality rate with the “Londolozi Leopards” of late?

Ann Seagle
Guest

So well done!! Thank you!!

Steve Wall
Guest

The circle of life. I was with Alfie when we saw this leopard at the waterhole. His back right thigh was very damaged and when he moved off very slowly it was clear that he would find it almost impossible to hunt. The photographs I have of this leopard drinking at the waterhole will now become very special as they are probably the last images of him alive.

Russ Taylor
Guest

Very, very sad. We were with Sean and Almon, when this leopard had just been chased up the tree by the lions. A weird day when one of those watching lions got up and leapt on the back of a grazing Rhino. The leopard watched and took the distraction advantage to climb down and creep off into the bush. The rhino just looked round wondering what the itch was on its back. Some injuries were clear but sadly there was obviously more to it. A great shame but, as you say, part of life in the bush.

Kath
Guest

Such a real story… incredible.

Lydia Watson
Guest

Beautifully written, James, thank you.

Madeleine Poulin
Guest

Thank You James for the reply. I am happy knowing that the Mashaba young female is his proud heiress.

Comments are closed.

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