There always comes a time in life when we have to say goodbye. It is a process that you can never get used to and it tends to be something that lingers around you each day, in your thoughts and in your experiences. This is not goodbye just yet but there is certainly concern that it may well be in the near future. The Dudley Riverbank Female looks to be on her last legs, no pun intended. She is fragile, weak and malnourished. It was rumoured that she had passed recently and it raised much sadness over a great community that follow the life of these leopards with intent. However, she is still very much alive and was seen on more than four occasions in the past week at Londolozi. However, seeing her has unfortunately educated us as Rangers and Trackers as well as guests, to the fact that she is living out her last few days with us in this beautiful land.
The Dudley Riverbank female has been a part of the Londolozi legacy for the past 16 years. Born in 1998 to the famous 3:4 female, and what is more incredible is that she is connected to the bloodline of the original Mother Leopard. The Dudley Riverbank female is the last remaining offspring of the 3:4 female, the other two deceased offspring were the Nottens female and the Newington male. Currently there are only two offspring of the Dudley Riverbank female that move on and off Londolozi. They are the very seldom seen Dudley Riverbank 5:5 male, who is territorial in the North Eastern sections of Marthly and the most recent addition is the Dudley Riverbank young female, the last successful cub of this amazing leopard. She had not been seen for many months and then appeared a few weeks ago on Londolozi, to everyones delight.
To give a little perspective, the Dudley Riverbank female got her name from the area in which she was territorial, Dudley Riverbank. It is a portion in the South Eastern regions of Londolozi, into Dudley. A fair drive from the lodge into some dense areas, with few roads and little human interference. This area is prime leopard habitat, scattered with small drainage lines and dry riverbeds, like the Tugwaan, who has seen more leopards than one can ever imagine. This female made this area her home for many years and defended it with every beat of her heart. She fought tirelessly to hold onto such a prime territory and keep her offspring and herself safe. This is an admirable life lived by this very important female, but her current antics are keeping everyone guessing.
Have you ever seen a leopard reach an age were she is no longer fit enough, strong enough or physically able to look after her own territory and defend it against other younger female? This is part of the life of a leopard. Have you ever seen a leopard becoming nomadic and wandering vast distances from its lost territory, sneaking in and out of other leopards territories, like a ghost? Under the radar at all times, surviving on the bare minimum but just trying to stay alive? This is another sad reality in the life of an old leopard. The part that fascinates me the most about this entire thing is how the Dudley Riverbank female has gone through this process, she has lost her territory and is now nomadic, but she has returned to her place of birth to spend her last remaining days. She has come to an area that she knew well as a young cub, an adolescent and as an independent leopard that was once chased away from this land to go and establish and fend for herself. Probably a good 14 years down the line and this female has decided that she wants to return to her place of birth to die. Have you ever seen this behaviour before? I find it fascinating, heartbreaking but almost romantic in some sense.
The problem that the Dudley Riverbank female faces is that, this land that she knows so well, in her memory and in her past, is now no longer the safe haven she once knew. It is no longer occupied by her grandmother, her mother or any related female. It no longer has the protection of the same male she knew in those times. Territories have shifted, generations have come and gone and she is now in an area that is a danger to her. She is moving in and out of areas that are occupied by extremely successful, young strong leopards, who are currently raising offspring, have recently left cubs to independence, or have been mating to raise future generations. The leopards in comment are the Tamboti female and the Mashaba female, and the Dudley Riverbank female has had encounters with both of them in the past month.
The first was with the Tamboti female in the central eastern portion of Londolozi, where the Tamboti female attacked and injured the Dudley Riverbank female in a serious altercation that, we believe, lead to the demise of the female in a short space of time. The other was more recent and is still in play with the Mashaba female, who is territorial around the camps and the most central and important portion of Londolozi. This is the area in which the Dudley Riverbank female was born all those years ago and is know faced with this dilemma, where it almost seems as if she just wants to come and rest in peace in her place of birth, but is being put under immense pressure by a leopard who is currently raising young cubs. It is a recipe for disaster.
From what we can assume and from what we have witnessed, the Dudley Riverbank female is entering her last few days, or weeks in this beautiful place. She has returned to her place of birth to perish and wants to do it calmly and quietly, and she has given so many the opportunity to share these last few moments. I can say that I have really cherished my little time spent with this female, most notably the last two sightings. When I drove off, I honestly thought I would never see her again.
Written and Photographed by: Mike Sutherland