The first male leopard I saw regularly in the Sabi Sands before starting at Londolozi was the Munghen or Sand River Male. A beautiful brute of a leopard, this male is seldom seen on Londolozi, even though this is his place of birth.
Born to the Munghen female in June 2000, he celebrates his 12th birthday this year, which, for a male leopard in an area with as dense a population as the Sabi Sands, and where competition for territory is fierce, makes him a senior in the ranks. He is the younger brother of the well-known Maxabene female (born to the same mother but from a different, later litter) but due to young male leopards dispersing from their areas of birth, he set up territory outside our borders.
I moved to Londolozi from a reserve south of us in 2010, and was pleased to see this leopard featured in the Londolozi leopard ID kit. Expecting to see him on numerous forays to the south, I was continually disappointed. Until a few mornings ago.
Tracker Jeffrey Mhlongo and ranger Jess Boon were working the south-western grasslands in search of cheetah when Jeff heard a side-striped jackal alarm call. Knowing these little animals will often emit their wailing alarm call when they see a leopard, we moved into the area to help them out. It didn’t take too long for Mike Sithole, the tracker with whom I work, to spot an odd looking shape in the boughs of a marula tree, over 200m away, which upon investigation, turned out to be a large male leopard. His milky right eye distinctive, as well as his characteristic three lines of spots on his forehead, let us recognize him as the Munghen male. This was the first time I had seen him on our property, and the first time in almost two-and-a-half years! The question is; why is he here?
The area we saw him in was right in the heart of the Tugwaan male’s territory. Munghen is a male most often seen on our neighboring properties to the south and is the Tugwaan male’s southern neighbour. What has been previously documented in male leopards is that once they are displaced as territorial males, they often return to their natal areas to live out their remaining days. We have seen the Camp Pan male (also 12 years old and maybe past his prime) spending more and more time further west, in the direction of the Tavangume Koppies on which he was born. Could it be that both of these senior members of the Sabi Sands leopard fraternity are losing their hold on their territories, and are feeling the need to return to areas familiar to them from their younger days spent under the protection of their mothers?
Time will tell, but in the meanwhile, we hope to see more of the Munghen male and his milky white eye gracing the marula trees of Londolozi.
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell