Londolozi Private Game Reserve is located in the Sabi Sands reserve on the western border of the boundless Kruger National Park. Due to the old fences being taken down animals are once again free to roam on their natural paths between the Kruger Park and Londolozi. The Varty family were instrumental in getting the fences removed and the land and animals who live there have flourished ever since.
This wonderful place called Londolozi (in Zulu, means ‘Protector of All Living Things’) is home to a male Leopard by the name of Tu Tones (Two Tones) One might think that maybe he was given this name due to different colour tones of his beautiful spotted coat, but actually it is because when he became an adult he moved to an area in the south eastern part of Londolozi where there is a vehicle track known as Tu Tones. He was often seen there and the name stuck.
We first met him when he and his twin brother were baby cubs. It was dusk and difficult to photograph them in the thick bushes. We saw them next a little older playing on a log next to the Mxabene drainage line. They were full of energy and their antics of mock fighting made us all laugh out loud. They were alone as their Mom, known as the Mxabene Female (Mxabene is pronounced Mashaben in English) was out hunting for food. Once she had made a kill she would return and fetch the kids and take them out for dinner. This mommy was so named as she established her territory along the Mxabene Drainage Line which is a dry river bed that only flows when there are very heavy rains at Londolozi. A drive along the soft river sand in the drainage line is an enchanting experience and not to be missed. The Mxabene Female was one of the most successful females in the area and a really good Mom. In spite of the extreme dangers that young leopard cubs face with lions, hyena, snakes and indeed other leopards many of her cubs survived to adulthood. One of these beautiful leopard cubs is the Tu Tones male.
Tu Tones’ Dad is the world renowned and mighty Camp Pan male so named because he spent a lot of his younger days at this little dam, named Camp Pan. Camp Pan is a legend and millions of people around the world have either seen him or viewed his pictures on the Londolozi website. In spite of being about 14 years old now (which is considered being a senior citizen for leopards) it is still a huge treat to see this dominant leopard. With these special genes flowing through his veins Tu Tones is now a formidable leopard and will probably dominate just like his Mom and Dad did for so many years.
When Tu Tones was young it was easy to distinguish him from his twin brother as he had a pink nose and his brother’s was completely black. Because of this we called him the “Pink Nose” juvenile. His spot pattern is 3:2 (these are little spots on either side the nose of the leopard which is the traditional system used to identify one leopard from another. At Londolozi the trackers and rangers go one step further and have a full range of identifying marks and coat patterns and will share details about the leopard’s family tree). We have been lucky to see Tu Tones often and have sat for hours admiring the way his Mom took care of him and his brother. I am unable to explain why this pink nosed young leopard endeared himself to us…. Possibly his limitless energy and playful, mischievous, nature as a cub… the pink nose no doubt had an influence.
Until recently they were very playful and it has always been a privilege to sit quietly and watch them in their own habitat doing what young leopards do. Luckily his Mom was “habituated” to the presence of vehicles and was always very relaxed in our presence. This gave her cubs the reassurance that we are no threat. The Mxabene female was so relaxed in fact that we gave her the nickname “Madonna” as it appeared that she actually enjoyed all the attention from the tourists. Sadly the Mxabene female went missing in 2012 and as she was old we believe from all the reports that she returned to her birthplace to die. This is the one thought but as she suddenly went missing while she was in fact raising another cub, she may have got caught and killed by another predator. We were very sad to hear the news.
As leopards are solitary when they reach adulthood, and seldom seen together, Tu Tones brother (known on Londolozi as the Makhotini male) moved much further south to establish his own territory so we have not seen him for a couple of years. The news is that he is doing well and we suspect he will also be a dominant leopard in that area.
In about 2011 it was discovered that Tu Tones left eye was badly injured and it was feared that he might lose sight in that eye. Eye injuries are not uncommon with leopards and can be caused by many of the perils of the African bush, porcupines, Mozambique spitting cobras, fights with other leopards or simply running into a thorn bush during a kill can cause these injuries. Happily our champion recovered well and his left eye is now just slightly darker than the right.
If you haven’t yet met Tu Tones you should definitely visit Londolozi as you might be lucky to spot him moving around this idyllic place that is his home. All our wonderful experiences and photo opportunities would never have been possible without the expert Trackers and Rangers of Londolozi…. Applause!
Tu Tones came walking down the road on the eastern boundary of Londolozi when we visited in December and for a second I thought it was his Dad, Camp Pan. He had that same dominant swagger of his Dad and looks in pristine condition. Gone is the playful cub, replaced by this serious muscular mature leopard. He lay down near our vehicle and allowed us quiet time with him just like his Mom used to do. He lay there as if he owned the entire property….. until a crested francolin started to sound the alarm that a dangerous cat was in the neighbourhood. We could see from the flicking of his white tipped tail that Tu Tones was being agitated by the francolin’s shrill calls, and after one of his usual enormous yawns, got up and moved off silently into the bushes.
If you haven’t yet met Tu Tones you should definitely visit Londolozi as you might be lucky to spot him moving around this idyllic place that is his home. All our wonderful experiences and photo opportunities would never have been possible without the expert Trackers and Rangers of Londalozi…. Applause!
Written and Photographed by:Trevor Patrick