I remember a sighting I had in the south of the Sabi Sands, before I came to Londolozi. We were looking for the Piva female and her cubs. Tracks of the female and her youngsters headed over our boundary to the east, but in the afternoon, tracks of them coming back had on top of them the much larger tracks of an adult male leopard. This looked ominous.
It was a stormy afternoon, with dark, dark clouds hanging low in the sky and the deep rumbling of thunder adding to the sense of expectation we all felt as we followed the tracks. Rounding a corner we suddenly came face to face with a terrible sight. An adult male leopard, breathing heavily with blood dripping from his mouth, stood over the lifeless body of one of the Piva female’s cubs, lying in the dust at his feet.
It was the Tugwaan male (aka Bicycle Crossing male), doing what males leopards do, killing the cub of a rival (in this case the Mhangeni or Sand River male).
Needless to say I was not immediately enamoured towards this leopard. I had watched those cubs growing up since they were only a few months old, and was greatly saddened that one had now gone (happily the other survived, and is now the Piva young male (aka Selati male) who we occasionally see in our southern areas).
A few months later I moved to Londolozi Game Reserve, and knew that the Tugwaan male (then called the Short Tailed male, after his mother) was a leopard I may encounter from time to time. I first bumped into him on Londolozi on our eastern boundary, not far south of Serengeti Pan, slowly walking up the road with a hyena trailing him at a distance. We followed him for most of the afternoon as he called and scent marked the borders of his territory, strolling past elephant herds and nervous impala.
I soon got over my animosity towards him as I saw more of him. He is truly a beautiful leopard, with his distinctive “M” shaped spot pattern on his forehead (also inherited by his son, the 5:5 male).
He remained a force in the area for the next two years, until he suffered from the knock-on effects of the arrival on the scene of the Marthly male. As the Marthly male moved south, he put increasing pressure on the Camp Pan male, who in turn was forced to move his territory further south. The Tugwaan male, being of smaller stature than the Camp Pan male, was pushed out ahead of him, and as a result we do not see him on Central Londolozi any more, an area that we regularly used to hear his territorial calls.
If I rack my brains, I can think of only two occasions on which I have seen the Tugwaan male this year. One was on a morning in February when we stumbled upon him hunting impala in our south-east, and the second time was late at night in the deep south, I think in August, when we caught little more than a glimpse of him making his way down to the Sand River. He used to be my favourite leopard to view here, but he can’t really qualify as such if he’s a leopard that we don’t even see on Londolozi anymore.
He still holds territory around our far borders though, so we can hope to bump into him from time to time, although the chances are slim. Every now and then, when driving or walking through our southern reaches, a bushbuck will bark in the distance, sometimes over our boundary, sometimes on our side, and although in the heavily thicketed areas spotting anything, especially something as camouflaged as a leopard, is difficult, I can still hope that I will round a corner and be greeted by the sight of my old favourite the Tugwaan male, strolling confidently down the dirt track.
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell