I was browsing through some old photos recently and came across a series of pictures of the Nkoveni female leopard from when she was around ten months old and still dependant on her mother the Mashaba female.

The pictures were from a sighting we had of her at a waterhole near camp, and came at the end of a day of great anxiety amongst the ranging and tracking team. She had been on a kill with her mother the night before, but the next morning, tracks indicated that the two leopards had been robbed by the Tsalala pride. The Mashaba female was found not too far away, calling for her cub, but to everyone’s dismay, the cub did not answer. Expert trackers Jerry Hambana and Freddy Ngobeni went back out after drive to see if they could decipher exactly what had happened, and from the deep paw prints in the earth they could clearly see how the lions had chased the Nkoveni female; After a few hours of searching the area, they were unable to conclude whether or not she had been caught and killed.

Heading out on drive that afternoon, we were stopped at a nearby waterhole watching some hippos when one of my guests suddenly exclaimed in delight from just behind me; he had spotted a leopard on the far side of the water. To our immense relief we saw that it was the Nkoveni female, still alive and completely unharmed.


The Nkoveni female as a 10-month old cub scans the surrounding area. Having recently been chased by lions and separated from her mother, is she worried or anxious? Can those emotions even apply to a leopard? Feel free to leave comments at the end of the post.


Young leopards when left for awhile by their mothers will often stay in the denser foliage of large trees, where detection is less likely.

She climbed a nearby Jackalberry tree, spending quite a bit of time deep in the foliage and only venturing to the outer branches once or twice. Eventually the sun began to set, and she descended to drink at the waterhole before moving into a nearby Gwarrie thicket where we left her for the night.


The immediate concern of the Nkoveni female in this picture, or indeed any leopard in this situation, should probably be about crocodiles, Wondering whether or not her mother is going to return for her in a day or two is probably the least of her current concerns.

A discussion point on this blog – and at Londolozi in general –  is anthropomorphizing and whether or not animals experience a similar spectrum of emotions to us. The fact that we’ll probably never know for sure I find wonderful, as the debate can never be concluded fully, and it is one I find continually stimulating.
Let me get back to the point of this post, which is that coming across that particular series of pictures left me wondering about the Nkoveni female that day, and what her anxiety levels were like in the immediate wake of her encounter with the lions. The nurturing side of human nature would instinctively want to empathise with her enforced solitude by the Tsalala Pride. Away from her mother, alone, with night and its dangers rapidly descending, we would assume she would be tremendously anxious. Out in the African bush, most of us in that situation would probably be reduced to trembling wrecks. If I remember correctly, the Nkoveni female was alone for a couple of days before she reunited with her mother, which is a situation almost incomprehensible to us as often-sheltered humans. My musings over the situation revolve around what – if any – anxiety the young leopard may have felt.
It’s not only that particular instance I thought of. There are multiple other times when wild animals, by our own human assessment of the situation, should be worried. When returning to camp after dark, I often find myself feeling compassion for any antelope I pass. I wonder how would feel if it was me having to spend a night out in the open in an area riddled with predators.

But thinking about it, it seems to me that as a wild animal, anxiety would be the most counterproductive feeling imaginable. Literally anything other than being focused on your absolutely essential and immediate needs would be a sure way to get yourself eaten, as your attention wouldn’t be where it should. A momentary lapse of concentration, taking your eyes off that suspicious thicket, ignoring a whiff of lion on the wind… any one of these, and countless other scenarios, could spell disaster for the individual. In an evolutionary context, worrying excessively about what might happen serves no apparent benefit, and I think this is where we as humans can take a lesson.


The sun goes down, and the danger level mounts. How concerned do you think these impala should be? But how concerned are they really? It’s impossible to say…

I am fully aware of how important it is to plan for the future in the western world, or at least seemingly important. I guess it depends on your priorities. Some of the happiest people out there lead the simplest of lives with very little. This in itself is the source for a whole other debate, so I won’t go into it here. Let’s rather focus on the animal side of things.

I simply want to say how it’s my belief that anxiety is very likely almost absent in the wild animal world, purely out of necessity. Having said that, one needs to be congnizant of the fact that fear and anxiety are two different things; fear concerns current events, anxiety concerns future events. A wild animal, whether predator or prey, may well feel fear because of something happening to it in the here and now. An impala feels fear when it sees a leopard and reacts accordingly. A Matimba male lion probably feels fear when three Majingilane are charging at him.

But the anxiety of tomorrow, when one cannot be sure of what tomorrow will bring, is very likely a foreign concept in nature. At least in my opinion. I guess if you distill the essence of what I’m saying here, it’s that we should be try be more like impalas.

Having written all this, it has just been brought to my attention that Amy Attenborough wrote a very similar post about six months ago, which you can link to here. At least it seems we agree.

Feel free to leave your comments below…

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 Does Fear Linger?

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Alejandro Mora

“AMatimba Male lion probably feels fear when three Majingilanes are charging at him.” James Tyrrell at his best.

Pretty boy Mapogo

“A Matimba Male Lion probably feels fear when three Majingilanes are charging at him.” Lmao


lol lol lol this is satire right majingilane are synonymous with cowardice

Aaron A

Any Matimba fan reading this would be pissed.

Juan Lopez

A Majingilane Male Lion would alsoprobably feels fear when Two Matimbas are charging at him.


I suppose it is more their instinct and also by learning that their behaviour can be influenced.
But I’m sure that they have more emotions than we suspect (sadness for sure )


A matimba lion doesnt feels as much fear as do five majingilane from one matimba


matimba dont fear anyone majingilane are the known cowards

Callum Wright

Fear and emotions exist in animals to some extinct. But fear and stress are most obvious of all.
If Matimbas could read this, they would probably be showing less fear next time…

Mike Ryan

As a youngster the Leopard would have been left alone for long periods of time and might well be used to the situation. Therefore in the knowledge that the mother would find it. Yes it would be cautious. dogs left alone fret others take it in their stride so I don’t think you can generalise. Anxiety suggests worry which is a different state to caution. Are animals capable of that deep thought ? My penny worth.

James Tyrrell

Hi Mike, thanks for the comment.
I guess I did open up a can of worms here, especially if we get into the semantics of the thing.
I do agree that there probably is a difference between different individuals and their states of feeling. Maybe something to do with a level of experience?
It does almost certainly boil down to the amount of thought an animal is capable of…
Hope you are all well!

Sheryl Schroeder

I find it intolerable when people say that we anthropomorphize animals and that they do not have emotions. It is clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they DO have emotions. We have all seen the elephants mourn, dogs overjoyed at the return of their people, a rescued cat feeling grateful after realizing they are safe… leopard cubs crying for their mother… the intense look of rigid fear when a prey animal is being hunted by a pride of lions… this is irrefutable. Yes, animals have emotions and feelings, they experience joy, play, love, fear and grief. It may not look like ours, but they do have emotion. We are not anthropomorphizing them to say this.

James Tyrrell

Hi Sheryl, thanks for the comments. I do agree with what you’re saying.
Animals definitely feel certain things; the problem comes when we ascribe the same emotions that we imagine we would feel in the same situation the animal is in… What you say is true in your second last sentence; “It may not look like ours, but they do have emotion”. That is most certainly true.
I guess the true beauty of it is we can’t really say for sure exactly what they are feeling or thinking. Maybe assuming they would feel the same way we as humans would feel about a certain situation helps us make more of a connection with them?
What do you think?

Madeleine Poulin

Thanks for this interesting post. You are right James. Everytime our cats and dogs weren’t back home at night our children and us worried about what could happen to them. We humans were anxious but our skilfull animals were not!

Nice pictures of the Nkoveni female, by the way.

Denise Michaels

I read the Londolozi blog daily, it is something like a mediation to me, allowing myself to take part in nature while living in a big city currently. I agree with what you are hypothisizing about the animals and question if anxiety may serve a person to keep them from getting in a fearful position. Meaning, is worrying about something in advance in some small way a preventive measure to being put in a fearful position? Or it anxiety purely a waste of energy and a drain on the human condition? Perhaps it needs to be filed in the “I can’t be sure file?
Hope to one day get to Londolizi.
My Best

James Tyrrell

HI Denise,
I like your line about worrying being a preventative measure. Getting into the nitty-gritty of it we could debate on how much of that supposed worry is a direct result of current circumstance or foresight. It certainly makes for an interesting discussion…

Jill Larone

Interesting and thought provoking, James. As humans, we can’t imagine that they aren’t anxious and stressed, but I guess it is something we will never really know. It would be nice to think that they live their lives contentantly and deal with fear and anxiety at the moment it occurs.

Alexandra Jonson

Matimbas fear none. They are brave lions. Long live my boys.


I was not reading this reading. But realized it is written by james, i need to have a look. What i learned is you don’t feel when you are challenged by one, you only feel fear when you are charged by three.


Moral of the article – Matimbas fear Majingilanes.

Matt Davidson

If Matimbas feared majingilanes, they wouldn’t have challenged them for territory.

Assad Malik

What he should have said is that Majingilanes live in fear everyday. any time there is a slight hint of other male lion s, they are afraid and have get the gang together because they are afraid to go out there one or two at a time. And why would Matimba ever fear the Majingilane when Hairy Belly proved his physical superiority over Dark mane decisively in a fight that almost killed DM.


This was a wonderful satire though matimba being afraid of well known cowards majingilanes great piece of writing that’s why dm nearly lost his life great article

Fursan Syed

Majingilanes are well known cowards. the article more fit on majingilanes. it had to be written on majingilanes back in 2010. when they ran away from Mr T , Makhulu and Dreadlocks in Elephant Plains

Anil Bakshi

Fears are instruments of both learning and teaching. Proportionate elements of fears have strong bearings on the survival as well as struggle. Old episodes stored in the brain prepare both humans/animals on the next potential threat. Anxiety on the other hand exhibits an unprepared, inefficient or inadequately placed brain exploring shortcuts. Anxiety is prominent in humans as their nurturing is secure, soft and stretched over long period of time. James a very good article….. always look forward to your posts!!!!! Regards

James Tyrrell

Hi Anil,
Thanks for the comments!

Cindy Hamilton

Excellent article James, as always, you write so well and provoke us all to think about the subject. Interesting to read the responses to it and the varying opinions as to animals ’emotions’. A really amazing book has recently been published about animal emotions, which is well worth reading for those who wish to explore this further, called ‘Beyond Words, What Animals Think’, by Carl Safina. a rigorously scientific work. in which he states that “…even worms exhibit great behavioral sophistication.”. Darwin wrote that after a lifetime of studying earthworms that they ‘deserve to be called intelligent”!. …makes you think!!


Hahahahahaha, we have our own Matimba vs Majingilane war right here in the comments.. I find both of them to be fabulous examples of a strong coalition. I am sad that both coalitions are nearing the twilight of their years.. They have given us much joy and excitement over the years.. Thank you James, I do believe that animals feel emotion, but only up to the point where it will not interfere with their survival.

James Tyrrell

Hi MJ,
Indeed, very sad to have to accept that neither coalition will be around forever. But that’s the nature of the bush, and who knows who will step up to fill the void they leave…


there is no war because matimbas are billion times better than cowards majingialanes the right words should have been four majingilanes feel fear from one matimba its really shameful that this was even written get over the majingilanes and accept the kings of londolozi matimbas stop longing for cowards people are interested in matimbas not cowards

Fen Williams

There is no doubt in my mind that these beautiful animals experience the sensation that we interpret as emotion. But they don’t interpret. And I think this is the reason that seeing these animals and watching them live their lives brings me such pleasure. Have you ever experienced emotion without thought? Yes, very powerful. So I want to keep my interpretation of emotion in these animals very much to myself so that my thoughts do not diminish in them that power so necessary for survival.

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