Enigmatic: difficult to interpret or understand; mysterious.
The word ‘enigmatic’ can be used a lot when it comes to leopards, sometimes to the point of cliché. There is a leopard currently on Londolozi however, who more than lives up to the tag.
The Robson’s 4:4 male, usually just referred to simply as ‘the 4:4 male’ is dominant over the most traversed areas on the Londolozi reserve, yet we know almost nothing about him. He arrived in early 2014, but we had very little inkling of his presence, aside from a few fleeting glimpses of an unrelaxed male running away from vehicles or trackers, usually in the densest of thickets.
The male’s arrival at Londolozi unfortunately coincided with the early days of the Mashaba female’s litter of three, and when these cubs disappeared, it was strongly believed that this unknown nomadic male may have been the culprit. Having said that, the old Dudley Riverbank female was also seen in the area at the time, and there is a chance she could have killed any unrelated cubs she came across, so I guess the mystery will forever remain unsolved.
The fact remains that the new 4:4 male came on to the scene just under two years ago, and very little was seen of him at first. His unrelaxed demeanour suggests that he originated in the Kruger National Park and never became used to being approached by vehicles. The earliest records of him are from the northern parts of the Sabi Sand Reserve in 2012 as a subadult, but what he did and where he went in the two years after that remains unclear.
He would turn up sporadically over a large section of Londolozi, and we were at first unable to work out any pattern in his movements. The only time we would view him consistently was when he began mating with the Mashaba female, and we are almost certain he is the father of her current cub.
What surprises me most about him is his hold on prime territory along the Sand River despite his small stature. When we found him in late 2014, we weren’t 100% sure of his identity, and his physique suggested that he was still a subadult. Subsequent photographic comparisons revealed him to be the very same 4:4 male, and apparently fully grown, given how readily he took over territory. I think luck was a significant factor, as he happened along at a time when the Marthly male was ageing.
Even though he has been territorial on Londolozi for almost two years now, the information we have of him and his movements remains sketchy at best. He will occasionally turn up on a kill, or we will hear him vocalising from deep drainage lines, but sightings continue to be erratic. He is certainly not cut from the same cloth as the Camp Pan or Marthly males, who grew up in the Sabi Sands Reserve, becoming habituated to vehicles early on, and who used to patrol down the centre of the road in plain view. No, no, that is not how the 4:4 male does it. He frequents hidden game paths, dry riverbeds and thickets, and if he gets to a road, he will more than likely move straight across it to get back into cover.
His territory encompasses those of the Mashaba, Tutlwa, Nkoveni, Nhlanguleni and Nanga females, so mating opportunities for him are rife. We believe the Nhlanguleni female is also secreting a litter somewhere in the river, most likely fathered by the 4:4 male, but no-one has yet caught a glimpse of the cubs. The Nanga female has been viewed crossing all the way from the Manyelethi River in the north to the Maxabene River in the south, taking a big risk by crossing through rival female’s territories, purely to mate with the 4:4 male.
I haven’t seen this male for over two weeks now, in fact I don’t think anyone has. Maybe he’s been sitting on kills in some hidden part of the reserve, maybe he’s just been spending time in the river, no-one can be sure.
All we know is that he continues to remain elusive, mysterious, and yes, a frustrating leopard to look for.
I think Enigmatic sums him up pretty well…