In the early hours of Saturday morning, in an incident unseen by human eyes – like so many others in the bush – the Piva male leopard, one of Londolozi’s most well-known, was pulled from the boughs of a Saffron tree by lions and killed.

No-one saw it happen, but the signs were clear for all. Deep gouges in the bark from lethal claws tearing through it. Tufts of mane hair caught on a branch where what are suspected to be the Avoca males attempted to lunge up to grab the leopard. A drag mark across the sandy track led to where his carcass – partially consumed by hyenas – lay. It was still warm upon its discovery, suggesting that his death had occurred only a short while before.

The Piva male’s passing has brought about a different reaction in the guest and guiding community of Londolozi and surrounds than I’ve seen before upon the death of an individual leopard. It’s not so much grief or a sense of loss that has been the overwhelming response, but more a feeling of disbelief. This was no old leopard being pushed out of his territory, no young pretender, no injured individual struggling from day to day. No, this was a gorgeous animal in his absolute prime, who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Piva male was a direct descendant of the original mother leopard that was first viewed in 1979. Photograph by James Tyrrell

I have seen lions chase leopard on many occasions, but never with any success; invariably the lion gives up if the leopard continues to run, or if the leopard seeks refuge in a tree (almost certainly the case here), the lion(s) lose interest, as their climbing abilities don’t even compare to those of their spotted cousins. The Piva male, it seems, simply chose the wrong tree. Quick or even instant decisions are often the fine margin between life and death in the animal kingdom, and although a tree might have been the best option at the time (maybe the lions came at him from different directions and evasion on the ground wasn’t an option), a Saffron is not the ideal species to climb to try and get out of reach of marauding lions – it is a rather low and scraggly tree, lacking the height and vertical trunk needed to provide a safe refuge for a leopard. It would have been a relatively simple matter for the two Avoca males to scramble or even reach up and pluck the Piva male out.

Scars on his face are evidence of a recent brawl with his long-time adversary to the south, the Inyathini male. Photograph by James Tyrrell

Here are what a few of the rangers had to say about the loss of this magnificent creature:

Amy: I clearly remember my first leopard sighting on Londolozi, it was of the Piva male. Driving in the sandy tracks of the stunning Tugwaan riverbed, I looked up into a weeping boer bean tree arching over the vehicle above us and looked into the face of this substantial male resting in its boughs. We quite literally drove underneath him. I had guided at two other game reserves before moving to Londolozi and although the second of those had a population of fairly relaxed leopards, I had never seen anything the likes of the Piva male before.

Staring up to where he had a kill stashed in a tree. Photograph by Amy Attenborough

For me, he came to epitomise the Leopards of Londolozi, who so graciously allow us into their lives. And because of what he came to represent for me, the news of his death struck me harder than any other leopard thus far. As always, Nature has its way and I choose not to question it but I can say that I feel incredibly grateful and privileged to have spent almost three years looking into the life of this truly beautiful cat.

Kevin Power:  People tell us we shouldn’t have emotions about the animals we see out here in the bush, they say we shouldn’t get attached, but its easier said than done. I know we should never anthropomorphise or think these animals care for us – they don’t – but we certainly care about them. I certainly do.

Hearing about the Piva male’s death was devastating. I first saw him as a young leopard in the south of the Sabi Sands just as he had left his mother; he was about  two years old. I’ve watched him grow into a large dominant male siring cubs of his own and establishing territory in some of the most prime leopard territory in the world. I’ve had some of the most memorable leopard sightings with him; viewing him in his natural habitat certainly has given me so much enjoyment and happiness.

The Piva male at just over two years old – already showing a thicker neck than would would expect on such a young leopard. Photograph by Kevin Power

It will be difficult driving around his territory knowing we not going to see his tracks on the road, but I will certainly remember all the smiles and incredible feelings he brought to me and hundreds of others.

A true legend of the Sabi Sands, gone too early, he will be sorely missed.

Nick Kleer: The Piva male had a presence about him that simply cannot be put into words. I loved viewing this leopard. He was the most beautiful of any male I have ever seen.

It was fascinating watching the slow evolution of his territory as he matured into a large dominant male. Photograph by Nick Kleer

The almost symmetrical ring of spots on his forehead made him instantly recognisable. Photograph by Nick Kleer

He was calm in his manner but yet you could feel his power simply through a glance. He was, quite simply, wonderful to be around, and the news of his passing before his time was shocking and has saddened us all deeply. It only really struck me while out on game drive on Sunday morning when we came across an old track of his in the Sand River. We have lost a legend. This is unfortunately, for those of us who become attached, the laws of nature. It was an absolute honour to have been able to share so many hours in this leopard’s presence.

Thank you for allowing us all to do so!

An all-time favourite photo of mine of the Piva male hunting a herd of impala, periodically emerging from the long grass. Photograph by Alistair Smith

After hours of tracking on this particular, we found the Piva male, bathed in the most magical light. Photograph by Alistair Smith

There is a sense of deja vu here, writing about a leopard killed by the Avoca male lions, the same fate the Xidulu female suffered only a few months ago, yet the knock-on effect of the Piva male’s death could have far greater implications for Londolozi’s leopards over the next few months.

Piva 3:2 Male
2010 - 2017

Directly descended from the original mother leopard and therefore part of the royal lineage of Londolozi.

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Piva 3:2 Male

Mother Leopard
31 stories
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I’ll go into that next week; for now let us confine ourselves to simply saying farewell to an animal that had a much greater impact on people than he himself could ever be aware of.
Thinking back now, I realise that the first leopard cubs I ever saw in the wild were the Piva male and his sibling. Little did I know that I would end up viewing that tiny male for the better part of a decade as he grew into a gorgeous and hulking specimen; an archetypal representative for his species.

Piva, Treehouse or Selati male, whatever name you chose to call him by, whether or not you feel an attachment to a wild animal is appropriate, and whether or not you ever saw this male on a visit to Londolozi, one can still appreciate the sense of loss that comes with the death of an animal like this. We can find solace in the fact that we actually know what happened to him, whereas in most cases, leopards simply disappear.

However tragic it may seem that he died in his prime, knowing his fate brings with it a sense of closure; it lets those who followed him grieve, make their peace with his passing, and say goodbye…

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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 Farewell to the Piva Male

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Judy Merrick

Seeing the Piva male in Feb 2017 was an awesome sight. It took some searching but finally we spotted him on the ground in some thick bush. Just a few yards away we spied 2 kills up in a tree. Then to our amazement we saw a 3rd kill in the next tree over. He had been a busy boy that morning. He was obviously a prince of leopards and will be sorely missed by so many.

Rick Lusk

Piva was my favourite! RIP

Andrew Milne

Hi James, and all that wrote in this article,

You have all written beautifully about an amazing animal and I am so sorry to all of you for this terribly sad loss!
I have only had exposure to the Piva male through the blogs, but he is one of my favourite leopards of Londolozi.
He was exactly how a leopard should look if you were describing the animal to someone who had never seen one, an amazing good looking and powerful cat.
I will be so sad to not read about him or see him in the WIP, but like you say, at least there is closure on how his story ended.
RIP Piva, may your memory live on.

Dawn Phillips

I am so saddened by this news. I am sitting reading this blog and my eyes are bristling with tears. I never had the fortune to see this wonderful leopard but feel that I know him in a small way through your stories
. I was so looking forward to seeing this beauty in September when I arrive. Nature has it’s own mind, however some things touch you in ways that are tough to swallow. Hugs to you all – I know that you are hurting with this loss.

Darlene Knott

I have seen this beautiful specimen in person. We watched him mate several times. It is hard to imagine that he no longer walks this earth. Gone in his prime, so sad. Nature works in mysterious ways. We see the same with humans. He will live on in our memories as the most beautiful male leopard we have ever seen.

Karen Saunders

That is devastating news. He was such a beautiful animal. I saw him at the end of January lying in a drainage channel in the early morning light and we watched him for some time. He was so big and healthy and I thought he would be part of the Londolozi family for several year. Following the death of one of the other leopards I saw on that trip, the Xidulu female, perhaps only the Flat Rock male and Xidulu female cub survice of the 5 I saw. It will be an opportunity for another leopard to move into a prime territory but a sad loss nevertheless.

Al Kaiser

Thanks James. I great tribute!

Lucie Easley

How can you not come to love and be in awe of such an incredibly beautiful animal. These remarks are such wonderful tributes to the Piva Male. They are also a recognition of the gratitude and wonder of being allowed into the world of the animals, who never know what their lives mean to us, mere humans. My thoughts are with all who grieve the loss and for whom the memories of Piva Male will live on.

Gillian Lacey

This is sad news indeed. We saw the Piva male briefly only once on our visit in 2016 but he left a lasting impression. I remember we spotted him or rather Gerry spotted him in a thicket resting. He was very relaxed despite the noise of Land Rovers manoeuvring around him. Even partially obscured we could tell he was a magnificent animal. I caught my breath when I first saw him up close; and as we sat barely a few feet away, still hardly daring to breathe, I pinched myself that I was actually at Londolozi seeing this very special animal. How very lucky we have been.

Jazz Doc

Wonderful eulogy and images. This hurts. RIP Piva male.

Marc Grawunder

Very sad news. Such a majestic and beautiful animal he was. Goodbye,Piva Male.

Robin Stebbins

Such a strong story, the disbelief that a Piva male in his prime could succumb to the wilds. In my life it seems I need things to make at least some sort of sense. This points the compass to the way other workings outside my tiny bubble of life can make little or no sense Nor do they need to, they just are, neither good or bad, or some puzzle to crack, it just is. Thank for this beautiful piece, you have changed my morning and my outlook. Allowing life to be as it is…

Jill Larone

James, what a lovely tribute to the legendary Piva. Such a sad, devastating loss and in such a horrible way. It’s so heartbreaking.

Earline Rochester

What a sad occasion but a beautiful tribute to a magnificent male, Piva. Thank you.

Mike Ryan

One of our favourite male Leopards. Shows how harsh the bush is and a split second decision determines you fate. Farewell and it was a privilege to have seen him at his prime.

Yves Christen

Extremely sad news. Not only because Piva was a beautifull cat but also because he was the last representative (with Ndzanzeni female, by the way the only member of this leopard family I never met…) of the initial Mother/Tugwaan/3-4 female lineage… Certainly a very important moment for Londolozi history.

Marilyn Bery

This breaks my heart. So sad to read of his passing .

Cynthia House

Halfway around the world a long way from Africa I was brought to tears at this sad news. I too have watched and learnt about the Piva male through your wonderful blogs from Londolozi that I so look forward to every day. Deeply saddened to hear of his violent death I also understand it is the way of nature but what a magnificent male he was. Thank you for bringing me so close to the amazing wildlife you share with others around the world.

Susan Strauss

I am so grateful I got to see the Piva male for the first time on my most recent visit last month. He was magnificent, stunning and grand. Thank you for sharing your memories of him with us. And I agree with Kevin…getting attached is natural .

Scott Sebastian

A big beautiful leopard gone way to soon.Only got to know the Piva male leopard from the blog and the pics
but he was a favorite .With the Piva male gone I was wondering about the Anderson male leopard.Have not seen any mention of him in a while,is he still around.The Avoca male lions seem to be making there name around there.
Was there ever a blog story done on them telling there history and where they came from.
Another great blog and pics James but sad to read.

Anthony Goldman

Devastated by the news of Piva`s death -he was such a special big boy for us!

Sean De

Wow James! What a beautifully and sensitively written piece about the beloved Piva male. One of my most memorable encounters with this male was spending an entire game drive enjoying him keep vigil over a bushbuck and cane rat he had stashed high up in some riverine vegetation. Simon was so patient with us as we sat and breathed in his magnificence. Piva was of particular interest to me as he is related to one of my all time favorite leopards, the Piva Female (Nottens). I stand with all of you in disbelief and acknowledge the light he brought into our lives. May his legacy live on and his cubs stay safe.

James Tyrrell

Thanks for the comments Sean.
Glad to hear the Piva female was one of your favourites.
There is possible confusion though between the leopard WE refer to as Nottens (who was the Piva female’s mother), and the one that Sabi Sabi refer to as Nottens (think they spelt it with an ‘i’), who was the Piva female herself.
Best regards

Mary Beth Wheeler

What a moving tribute to Piva, James. I feel so badly about his too-soon death. But I also feel so much gratitude for the hours Bob and I have spent with him. I will miss him…and I now worry about his cubs as a new dominant male moves in.

James Tyrrell

Thanks Mary Beth,
There is still hope as far as the cubs are concerned – blog coming out on this subject next week…

Rich Laburn

A fitting tribute to a magnificent male leopard. Thank you for posting everyone’s comments and images of this incredible male leopard.

Bridie Tane

This is such sad news, we had the privilege of spending time with this magnificent leopard when we were with you in March, he will be greatly missed

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