A question that often gets asked by guests is, “Do you name your animals?”. It’s a tricky issue, and my answer is usually given after a pause. “Yes and no”, is my stock response, before going into the explanation.
We live in a wild place, in which the animals are doing what they have been for thousands of years. Their relaxed nature (generally) around vehicles allows us a unique insight into their lives, and we are incredibly privileged to bear witness to the spectacle of the African Bushveld. Step out of the vehicle however, and you suddenly become far more a part of what can be an incredibly dangerous environment.
The animals are not tame, despite their tolerance of the Land Rovers. Far from it. Ask any ranger or tracker who has worked long enough in the bush, and they almost certainly have a number of spine-chilling stories for you about how they tracked lions into a thicket and had a great tawny beast come hurtling out at them in a terrifying charge, or how when following a drag mark in the sand, a low ominous growl warned them of the leopard concealed in a bush, invisible, yet frighteningly close and aggressively ready to defend its kill.
The naming of an animal has the potential to detract from it’s wildness, and this is where the contentiousness comes in.
Animals at Londolozi are named purely for reference purposes. Unofficially, over time, rangers, trackers and camp staff may start to refer to individual animals in a more affectionate way, as we get to follow some of them from birth to death and in some ways share their trials and tribulations, or at least watch them. Avoiding forming an emotional attachment is difficult.
Our official stance is that animals are named for reference. Knowing where individual leopards and lion prides have their territories is enormously helpful when tracking and working out where to begin searching for these big cats of Londolozi. Knowing that the Camp Pan male leopard stays in the central reaches enables us to form a good idea that it is his tracks we are following down on Tugwaan Drive. The Tsalala pride has denned on Southern Cross koppies before, so tracks of a lioness with small cubs in the area will inevitably be a female from that pride. Assigning names to the cats aids us in finding them, aids us in recording their movements and certainly helps us in our day to day game drives, communicating by radio which animals are being seen and where.
Notice that I referred to the Camp Pan male leopard. Not simply Camp Pan. Referring to him in the same way as one would refer to a pet diminishes his stature somewhat as an enormously imposing, regal male leopard. We don’t call leopards “Whiskers” or “Buttons” or silly pet names like that. Lions are referenced according to their prides or coalitions, eg. one of the Sparta lionesses or the hip-scarred male of the Majingilane Coalition.
Notice as well that I said our official stance. I am sure if you read back over the last few months you will uncover a number of more informal references to individual animals. We do slip up occasionally.
But I digress. The real reason for this blog is to announce three names that have changed.
How do we name animals (officially)?
Once a leopard has become territorial or a coalition of male lions has broken away from their pride, the ranging and tracking team will gather together, drink Fanta Grape and eat Nik-Naks, and argue back and forth for awhile about what to call it or them. What we do is choose a prominent feature in the territory of the animal in question and assign that name.
The Vomba female leopard spends a lot of her time on or around Vomba Road, which runs straight through her territory. The Dudley Riverbank female spends time near the Sand River on the Dudley section of the reserve. The Selati/Southern male lions came from the Southern or Selati Pride.
Which brings me to the new names. The Maxabene 3:3 and 3:2 young male leopards and the Tsalala Breakaway pride are changing theirs. The leopard brothers have been seen calling and scent-marking (as well as mating) in different sections of the reserve and so are ready to shed their mother’s name (Leopards are named after their mothers with the prefix young- before male or female until such time as they are territorial). The Tsalala breakaway pride does not look like rejoining with the original Tsalala Pride and so are deserving of their own name.
The new names are as follows:
The Maxabene 3:2 young male leopard becomes the Tu-Tones male. Tu-Tone Sithole was one of Londolozi’s early great trackers who was honoured with a road being named after him. The Tu-tones male leopard spends a lot of his time in that area.
The Maxabene 3:3 young male becomes the Makohtini male. A waterhole in the south of Londolozi is named Makhotini Dam and this is a spot where the male leopard is seen regularly.
The Tsalala breakaway pride becomes the Munghen Pride. Munghen in Shangaan means aloe, and a drainage lion in the west of Londolozi features a number of these beautiful plants and bears the name. It is in this drainage line that one of the lionesses from the pride has been denning her young cubs recently.
They are still the same animals and we will be documenting their lives as closely as ever.
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell