Death, it seems, is just a part of life, and for the Dudley Riverbank Female, it is likely that the end is not too far away.
This is not an obituary, nor am I stating categorically that she will be gone soon, but when we saw her yesterday (after a long absence during which we presumed she was deceased), she was looking in just about as bad a state as a leopard can be in.
Old age has set in (she turned 17 last month), and it has been many, many months since she was territorial over an area. The younger Tamboti female saw to it that the DRB female was pushed out of her riverside haunts in late 2013, thankfully after having successfully raised her last cub, the DRB Young Female.
Since that time, the old, pale leopardess has been nomadic, turning up all over the Londolozi property. She was in the immediate area when the Mashaba female lost her litter of 2014, and although the Robson’s 4:4 male, newly arrived in the area, was the prime suspect, there is an outside chance the DRB female could have been the culprit. Since then she has been sighted in the western grasslands, in the Dudley Riverbank area itself, and in a number of places one would have never expected to find her when she was still territorial.
The latest sighting of her was yesterday, on the Sand River, but far north of her old riverside patrol area. Maybe she feels more at ease in the Phragmites thickets, hunting bushbuck and other riparian bush inhabitants. Having said that, it is doubtful that she even has the strength or energy to catch an adult antelope, let alone hoist it. She was seen hunting banded mongooses just outside the Londolozi camps yesterday morning, further proof of her desperation in old age.
Leopards are tremendously adaptable animals, and will simply change their habits and prey preferences through adversity. The Dudley Riverbank Young male of 2009 recovered from a horrific injury to his back leg in 2011. Barely able to touch it to the ground, he was seen carrying it gingerly along on a number of occasions, but six months later he was right as rain. As long as leopards are able to get the sustenance they need to repair themselves, by any means necessary, their bodies can often take care of the rest.
In the case of the old Dudley Riverbank female, it is probably too far past that point for her. Small mammals, the occasional bird and some carrion scavenged here and there are probably what she is surviving on at the moment, not enough to sustain her in the long term, and not enough to repair the gash in her back left leg, which is surely incapacitating her to some degree.
A similar situation occurred with the Nottens female, in which every sighting of her could have been the last, yet she kept us all guessing for many months until we finally had to accept she was gone. The DRB Female is her younger sister, and both are descended from the original Mother Leopard of Londolozi. Both have reached similar ages, both have raised cubs which we hope will further the bloodline of the Royal Family of Londolozi Leopards.
When the end comes for the Dudley Riverbank female, probably soon, it is doubtful anyone will witness it. I only hope for her sake it will be quick, and dignified…
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell