The Camp Pan male leopard is somewhat of a legend at Londolozi. Born in December 2000, he has dominated much of the area for a number of years and sired many cubs. He is one of the easiest of Londolozi’s leopards to identify as he has a scar (black line) beneath his right eye. His size is also a clear giveaway as well as his 4:3 spot pattern.
I remember when I first arrived in the Sabi Sand, the Camp Pan male had a reputation as being the largest leopard in the area and I was desperate to see him. He remains the largest leopard I have had the privilege of seeing and, even as he moves into his twilight years, his sheer size makes him a force to be reckoned with. I had to wait a good few months, but the wait was definitely worth it, as my first sighting of him remains one of the most exciting I have ever had.
A pack of wild dogs had killed, and were feeding on, a young waterbuck just south of the Sand River at Taylor’s crossing. Unbeknown to them, the Camp Pan male was lying in wait in the sedge along the river bank and we spotted him as we crossed the river, making our way towards the wild dogs. Next thing, a hyena stuck its head out of the bushes close to where the dogs were feeding, likely having heard the commotion when the waterbuck was killed. Trying to defend their kill, the wild dogs all turned to chase the hyena. The Camp Pan male spotted his gap and charged towards the remains of the young waterbuck, grabbed it, and made for a large Jackal Berry tree (Diospyros mespiliformis) a couple of metres away. This all happened in a matter of seconds. The wild dogs seemed completely stunned. They ran around the base of the tree a couple of times and then disappeared upstream.
At this stage, the Camp Pan Male was 9 years old and in his prime. At the time I didn’t think much of the fact that he had scavenged a kill and thought he was simply being opportunistic. I would later learn, however, that this leopard has a habit of scavenging kills, especially from other leopards.
In the past two weeks, he has robbed both the Mxabene 3:2 young male and the Mxabene female of their impala kills. This trend made me wonder what was causing this seemingly unusual behaviour, as we always consider leopards to be more of a predator than a scavenger. My first thought was that, at a touch over 11 years, he was possibly past his prime and having difficulty hunting his own prey. He could have therefore turned to scavenging to supplement his diet. If, however, you spend any amount of time watching this leopard go about his daily wanderings, you will soon realise that he is hardly past his prime and is still very capable of hunting.
After more careful consideration, I came to the conclusion that it all comes down to the fact that leopards are both extremely adaptable and opportunistic. I have no doubt that the reason he scavenges so many kills is that he can! Being solitary animals, leopards can’t afford to be injured, otherwise they risk losing their ability to hunt. This implies that if challenged by a large leopard, such as the Camp Pan male, other leopards would rather give up their kill than defend it and risk being injured.
This works both ways, in that every time a leopard hunts, it risks being injured. The Camp Pan male has likely learned that other leopards will usually submit to him and as such it is less risky for him to rob them of their kills than to hunt animals himself.
I find this fascinating, as we often put animals in boxes. Hyenas are regarded as scavengers and leopards and lions are seen to be hunters. The bottom line is that the sole objective of these animals is to survive from day to day to enable them to procreate and have as many offspring as possible. This ensures that their genes are carried forward and the species continues. This principle should always be considered when interpreting animal behaviour, as they will usually pursue the safest and most reliable option. In the case of the Camp Pan male, this means rather scavenging kills than making his own.
I would be interested to hear what your thoughts are regarding my interpretation of this behaviour. Please feel free to leave your comments below.
Written and photographed by James Crookes