The Nottens female was a long way out of her territory. One of the oldest remaining descendants of the 3:4 female, she had moved north towards the Sand River in a desperate attempt to mate. Her years were like ripples on the river, gently flowing away, melting into the currents before they would be sucked and dissolved back into the stream of life. Her most recent set of cubs had not survived and as an aging leopard she was yearning for a litter once more. A last set of cubs to continue her legacy, before she became too old, her timing too late and her ripples faded back into the stream.
The Camp Pan male was unaware of her presence until she started calling. Perched amidst a shrouded termite mound, he arrogantly watched her approach until he felt she was close enough to growl at, greet and then mate with. Leopards are never careless unless they are desperate and for the Nottens female, her callous parade left no doubt as to her hopeful intentions.
As I watched the pair in the shade, the metaphor lay stretched out together with them. At first hard to see, then glaringly obvious. Whereas the potential of new life, procreation and the natural order might have been the common perception, I saw little else but an aging leopard longing only to fulfill her instinctive purpose in this wild land. Despite her age, she had to mate. Not for gratification, company or leisure, but because it was a means to an end. She had to mate so that she would attempt motherhood again. This was her purpose…
So where does that leave us and, more importantly, where does it leave the Nottens female leopard? On the one hand there is the inevitable progression of growing old and on the other there is the fulfillment of life’s purpose. Somewhere, stuck deep in the middle, lies the Nottens female: Aged, scarred and longing, yet secure in the knowledge that just because she grows old does not mean that she will ever stop trying to fulfill her purpose. And though her ripples will fade with the current, they will most certainly give life to something far greater downstream.
Written, filmed and photographed by: Rich Laburn