Amy Attenborough and I spend a lot of time in the bush together, and while waiting for sightings to unfold in order to capture them on film, we will wile away the hours debating everything under the sun. Our topics of discussion range widely, from animal behaviour to the metaphysical to what we will have for breakfast later that morning (usually scrambled eggs with spinach and chilli). Over the last week, I have found the conversations being repeatedly steered – mainly by me – back towards the 4:4 male leopard.

I wrote in his obituary post about what he seemed to represent –  a deeper connection to the wilderness through his furtive nature, and in my ignorance I assumed that most others would share my views. It seems that I was partly wrong about this, in that although the rangers here all seemed to agree what the 4:4 male was, it wasn’t clear to everyone what he represented for them, if anything.
Driving around with Amy over the last week or so, we have passed a number of spots on the reserve at which I or we once enjoyed a sighting of this leopard, and at each one I would feel a deep pang of loss.

44 Mashaba-4

By now, almost a month after he passed on, I had imagined that the initial grief I felt over his death would have abated somewhat, and although it certainly wasn’t like losing a family member or anything near as catastrophic, the fact remains that there’s still something there that hits me in the chest when I think of him.

So what is it?

Now what I’ve discovered is going to sound somewhat hypocritical given my recent post on how animals aren’t there to do anything for us and how we tend to ascribe too many emotions to wildlife and bestow human qualities on them. But the conclusion Amy and I drew after a number of discussions about the 4:4 male’s death was that sometimes in nature, we get to see parts of ourselves reflected back at us. 

This is not to say that this leopard had qualities I had, except maybe that we were both mammals that breathe oxygen, but more that certain animals, be it in their nature, behaviour, temperament, or whatever it may be, can represent certain things for us that enable us to cast a light inwards. A mirror in which to see whatever it is we are looking for.

It’s hard to describe and by now I’m sure some of you are thinking this is sounding a bit wishy-washy, but let me press on.

I imagine that it is only in certain times of your life that you are receptive to something like this, and as stated in the post on his death, I know that in no way did the 4:4 male feel any kind of kinship towards me, nor would he have recognised my face in a lineup. What is important is what I felt towards him. This is where the hypocrisy comes in, in that I previously stated that the animals are just there living out their lives, and all we can do is be grateful that they allow us to witness them in the wild.
I take that back now, or at least I acknowledge that I oversimplified it. Whilst the purpose of these animals is not to be entertainment for us, we can nevertheless still find enormous value in their presence from a spiritual point of view.


The joy and the beauty that people find in nature can be completely unique to the individual, and what I see in a leopard and how he makes me feel, and the meaning I choose to take from his life is something totally different to the next person.

This for me is the true value of a wildlife experience; a communion with nature can be a communion with the self.

I have never been good at introspection, and a number of my close friends and family will be nodding their heads at this and having an ironic chuckle, but something in the loss of the 4:4 male made me look into that mirror. And whether some of the things I saw and the conclusions I drew were about myself or about the leopard, I still don’t know.


Now bear with me as these will be the most anthropomorphic few sentences you’ll ever see me write…

I think the sadness of the 4:4 male for me was in the fact that this beautiful gift of an animal represented something that was misunderstood. Whilst the Inyathini male in his far-off territory has become far more relaxed around vehicles since arriving out of the Kruger Park, the 4:4 male remained hidden, almost as if there was a stubborn reluctance to share himself. He hid himself away from the world with a consistent obstinacy, despite having the Londolozi camps central in his territory. Almost by default he should have become habituated far more quickly than the Inyathini male, and the fact that he never was appears almost to be a choice he made. Was he protecting himself? Was he scared? We’ll never know.
And then, suddenly, he was gone. And whatever else he might have been able to offer those of us who viewed him in terms of the connection we might have made with him, his surroundings, or ourselves, was lost with him.

I have to repeat myself here, and say that this is purely my own mind talking, and my own ideas about what he represented. The 4:4 male was simply being a leopard, nothing more, and whatever lessons I or we can take from his life are purely for us.

But for some reason, and as selfish as this may sound, his death came at the right time for it to be a reason or at least a means through which I – and maybe others – could find meaning.

This reflection of self, and the knowledge and growth we can take away from it, whether it is from nature or not, is one of the most important gifts this world can give us.





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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on The Ghost of the 4:4 Male

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Loss is something we all handle differently, often causing inner reflection. Ultimately, we all learn more about ourselves from these life experiences and many will empathise with your expression of gratitude and grief.

James Tyrrell

Hi Jenny,
Thanks you for your comments. You’re right, ultimately it’s all a learning experience 🙂

Tom Bradley

Thank you James. As we age, we view these losses from different perspectives. Well written as always.

James Tyrrell

Thanks Tom!

barbara jones

Well said and I almost teared up!

James Tyrrell

Hi Barbara,
It’s funny how different things in nature can make us emotional when we least expect it…


Dear James, I know we should never anthropomorphise but how can we not? If it is within our nature then it is a natural element of our self.
I think you saw something of your self in the 4:4 male Leopard & that now he has “gone” so has a bit of your self.
You are grieving now for something lost which logically you know you can never retrieve but I think that Leopard will always be with you & he has managed to teach you something.

James Tyrrell

So true Susanna. There are lessons to be learnt in the strangest of places…

Alice Ross

James your passion is blatantly clear and we share a special love of leopards. Your post is brave and I salute you for showing a vulnerable sensitive side of yourself (not too many guys can do this). I wish I had the opportunity to meet you and have this discussion in person. A most enjoyable and thought provoking blog as always. All the best Alice Ross (mum to Trevor McCall-Peat )

James Tyrrell

Thanks very much for your kind comments Alice.
We’re missing Trevor already!


Thank you James. I agree sometimes things happen in our lives, at a certain time and the meaning becomes deep and retrospective. I see a leopard (my favorite mammal in the bush) and feel a yearning. I see in the mirror that yearning to be free and unencumbered, to feel wildness and freedom of that leopard. Yes, I think we as wildlife lovers can feel things others just think are nuts.. That is ok, maybe they will one day find that one thing that touches them to the depths of their soul.

James Tyrrell

Hi MJ,
Ultimately whatever you feel is for you, whether others think you’re nuts or not… 🙂


I also believe animals can mirror back to us parts of ourselves we may not have appreciated in ourselves. Thanks for sharing your reflections with us.

James Tyrrell

My pleasure, Lee.

catherine mullin

This. Gratitude for your words – I think we sometimes err on the side of dispassion. Believing that animals, plants etc are separate from us and we them. Just perhaps the emotions and feelings that arise when we feel a deeper connection with nature are closer to the truth than we believe – we are all one.

James Tyrrell

I agree Catherine. That connectedness one can feel in nature, whether it’s viewing a leopard at Londolozi or simply standing under an oak tree in your local park, is something I think many of us have lost sight of…

Jan-Erik Rottinghuis

James, well said and thought provoking. Agree that there is s spiritual connection, when viewing these animals in their habitat (just returning from Kenya…and planning to go back to Londolozi…) and some sort of desire to be more part of it…as it is the beauty in its rawest form that you are witnessing! So I can relate to your sense of loss. Fortunately life (in the bush) goes on so you will be able to find another “relationship” I hope.

James Tyrrell

Hi Jan-Erik,
Life does indeed go on, and another leopard will certainly move in to fill his place. Who that will be and what I feel for him I guess only time will tell…

Una Holdsworth

Hello James,
My husband and I have visited Londolozi a few times. Round the time of the Tugwaan female we visited often. Our most recent visit was with Lex Hes a few years ago. We will be visiting again in June next year so I have joined the blog to see what is happening at Londolozi. I was interested in your reflex ions of the 4.4 male leopard. Please could you tell me when he lived and how he died. Look forward to hearing from you.

James Tyrrell

Hi Una,
He was a bit of an enigma, in that we don’t know a lot about his history. We believe he was born around 2010, most likely in the Kruger Park, which would account for his skittish nature around vehicles.
He fathered a number of litters with various females, the only surviving one being the current Mashaba young female.
About a month ago he was caught by the Mhangeni breakaway pride of lions and mauled badly. He managed to escape but sadly died of his wounds a week or so later.
For a bit more info, have a look at this blog from a a while ago:

Senior Moment

Ah, when you cut away the luxurious lodges, the high end digital cameras and lenses, the spiritual sense is still there. Perhaps best encountered when you stop, and take in just what you are seeing and then just breathe it in.

James Tyrrell

Hi Ian,
That;s often the best way to do it. Sit in silence and just be present…

Sharon Blackburn

What a heartfelt, beautifully expressed post! Grief, although a constant and recurring part of every life, affects us all strongly and often in unexpected ways. Perhaps, as you suggest, it was the 4:4 male’s very wildness that you respected, his very presence, when he was seen or unseen. We should all grieve that the opportunities to learn what he, as a unique individual, had to teach us just by his being, are no longer there.
Your admiration of his qualities reminded me of our first visit to Londolozi when we searched for a female with cubs (at that time I did not even realize that all the leopards were named and had extensive genealogies!) Our hard-working ranger and tracker located her in very thick brush. We knew she was there, but when she was not discovered, they respectfully backed off to give her the privacy she obviously wanted. Of course we were disappointed at not seeing her, but the overwhelming feeling was of admiration for her, for her being a skillful leopard mum who could successfully hide her precious cubs! Yay, mum! May you always be able to hide them away! She could not know that we were proud of her for eluding the best tracking, in order to protect her cubs. We recognized the importance to leopards and all wild animals in maintaining their wildness, to sometimes refuse contact with humans. Londolozi is the excellent model of how humans should interact and behave, respecting the animals and their individuality as they struggle to survive in their dwindling habitats. As observers, we can learn from the animals how to step lightly on the earth as part of the web, not by trying to exert dominance. We are the privileged observers and we should never forget that. The lovely posts written by the Londolozi family always capture this profound respect, understanding, and acknowledgement of how much we don’t know. The writers’ deep love (no other word for it) for the wildness these animals represent, and admiration for their daily struggles to survive within their great circle of life, certainly serve to educate both the people who are in the vehicles and those reading the blogs from all across the world, happy in the knowledge that Londolozi and the Londolozi spirit exists. I can not presume to know, but perhaps that embodiment of life lived purely on its own terms in the 4:4 male particularly resonated with you, as it does with us all, thanks to this meaningful post.
Our family looks forward to coming to Londolozi in December!

James Tyrrell

Thank you for your heartfelt comments Sharon,
We’re looking forward to having you back here! We just had our first proper rains so the bush will hopefully have greened up nicely..

Jill Larone

James, each person grieves differently, and sometimes the connection we never expected to have, and the special love and respect that you felt for this beautiful Leopard, is the grief felt most intensely once they are gone. Is it necessary for you to understand why you feel this way? — or just accept that you do, and that for this moment in time, this incredible Leopard allowed you a view into his life and to feel this special connection.

James Tyrrell

Hi Jill, I agree, in that the understanding of the emotion isn’t always necessary; sometimes it’s better just to go with it in the moment…

Kate Imrie

Hi James, beautifully written and welcome to the world of reflection, it is a very powerful thing.

James Tyrrell

Thanks Katie! Scary place, but it is powerful indeed!


amazing blog post truly amazing

Clare Gibbon

Wonderful post, Jamie. Fabulous that you stick your head (and heart!) above the parapet for that beautiful leopard. Wish I’d seen him. You make me feel the loss too – so important. More normally we gloss over such experiences and so diminish the beauty and value of what is gone. Thank you.

Una Holdsworth

Thank you James. We look forward to perhaps meeting you in June. Also seeing some of the 4.4 male’s offspring.

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