Death is a part of life. It is a fact that we all know, even though it doesn’t make it any easier to accept. Recently, rangers east of our boundary informed us that they had found the body of the Tu Tones male. It is thus, with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to a leopard who granted us the trust for hours of incredible viewing, wonderful photographic opportunities and a glimpse into the life of a characteristically elusive cat.
As a youngster, he was affectionately nicknamed Pinky after his bright pink nose. Tu Tones and his brother, the Makotini male, were born to Maxabeni female in October 2008. I had heard of Tu Tones long before starting to work at Londolozi as he marvelled everyone by establishing his territory within the territory of his father, Camp Pan, which is usually unheard of in the leopard world. What is always fascinating for us rangers is that we watch the stories of these animals’ lives unfold, and as in the case of Tu Tones are exposed to this secret world where we have the opportunity to observe new behaviours daily.
The last few months we sadly watched Tu Tones condition deteriorate. The last time I saw him, he had severe mange and was looking particularly skinny. Although in his prime years, a couple of fights left him worse for wear and he just couldn’t seem to bounce back. We can only speculate as to whether his territory choice aided in his demise as he struggled to overtake and maintain his area once Camp Pan was displaced.
A few rangers have shared some thoughts on this incredible cat. Talley writes about one very memorable encounter with Tu Tones.
“Once when Freddy and I were tracking him on foot he was lying out in the open next to the road and for some reason we just didn’t see him, we didn’t look up at all and paced back and forth along the road looking for the next track and he was just lying there casually spectating from 2m away! Not even trying to hide but most likely enjoying the show of the idiots that couldn’t find him. Then when he knew we’d spotted him, instead of growling, running or charging like a normal leopard would, he fell asleep!” – Talley Smith
Helen Young, a former Londolozi ranger who watched Tu tones grow up, sums things up perfectly as she reflects on the privilege it was to view this leopard:
“We cannot escape our humanity. It is our nature to grieve, be it for the passing of a loved one, or in some very rare cases, a leopard with a wonky eye. Things are simpler in the animal kingdom. Death is necessary; a constant reminder of the natural order of things. The weak make space for the strong, and life continues.
So why, as I type this, am I feeling pangs of sadness for an animal that was simply taking part in a cycle that has no room for compassion? Should I take a leaf out of a wilder book, and simply forget the first time I saw a tiny pink nose poke out from behind a rock, a goofy expression already etched onto a tiny face? Should I forget the years spent watching a leopard grow; a story behind each scar?
Perhaps, but my ‘weak’ human nature, unable to avoid anthropomorphizing, has a different view. I will remember a leopard that brought a smile to my face, every time I saw him. What is more, I will remember the guests and fellow rangers who were granted a similar honour, the thousands of photographs, now scattered across the globe, given places of prominence in family albums full of memories.
By allowing us into his world, he became a custodian of the natural world he lived in, and will continue to do so with each story, passed on through generations reliving happy times. Without uttering a word, with one piercing look from a bright eye, he has changed the hearts and influenced the minds of countless people. What I will remember, is not the death of a friend – this leopard was wild, we were not friends, he would never have stooped to such unnecessary emotions – but the life of a powerful conservationist.” – Helen Young
Any viewers who have had special sightings with Tu Tones and would like to share? Share your message with us in the comments below.
Written by: Andrea Campbell, Talley Smith & Helen Young
Photographed by: James Tyrrell, Simon Smit, Michael Moss, Frank Oldham, Trevor Patrick, David Dampier, Chris Kane-Berman and Andrea Campbell