It is our 90th year at Londolozi and as a result there is a distinctive tinge of nostalgia in the air. Recently we’ve been working on some really amazing projects to be launched during our next chapter and it seems everywhere I look I am being lead back to one incredibly special animal. I checked and not a single blog has been written about this legend and quite honestly her story has defined our journey. The leopard I refer to is the original Mother Leopard. The first viewable leopard of Londolozi and possibly even Africa…
Prior to the late 1970’s, leopards and indeed much of the animal viewing was scarce in comparison to our reality today. Leopards in particular were skittish and hid from humans and vehicles. Being an animal that can become invisible when it does not want to be seen, meant that they remained a sort of enigma. However this changed one fateful day in 1979 when rangers found a leopard that did not run from humans. Although still shy and uncertain, she tolerated their presence and it was this gift that gave the Varty brothers the assurance in their belief that respect, care and veneration for the wild could indeed be a viable business model. At a time when this leopard was most needed, it seemed she arrived to give the message that man and nature can and must enter into a trusting and mutually beneficial partnership for good.
The original viewable leopard of Londolozi, if not Africa. In 1979 this leopard appeared as if by magic, allowing vehicles to view her.
John Varty and Elmon Mhlongo then spent the next 12 years of her life, closely following and documenting the intricacies of this leopard’s story. In this time they captured incredible footage; moments in a leopard’s life that had never before been witnessed. They became like nocturnal creatures, sleeping during the day and moving at night so as to follow this animal when she was most active. I remember Elmon telling me the complete joy and excitement he felt when they managed to capture the first ever footage of leopards mating. The male was incredibly shy but because he was mating with the by then habituated Mother Leopard they were able to get close enough. After hours of patient waiting they eventually succeeded. These moments have been immortalised in the film, The Silent Hunter, released in 1986. Click on the link below for the excerpt of the first ever footage of leopards mating in the wild.
Along with this they watched her do incredible things. They were given insight into the movements of leopards, their favoured prey, their quite distinctive personality differences and how it was that they hunted. Below is a video captured of this female hunting from a tree, something rarely documented or even seen.
They watched her have numerous cubs too. In fact we know that she had no less than 9 litters. Through sensitivity, patience and trial and error, the rangers and trackers began to learn how to habituate these young leopard cubs. Something that has been integral to the incredibly successful viewing of leopards today and the special relationship and kinship that has developed with all of the creatures that roam Londolozi.
Today we view 8th generation descendants of this leopard, which include the Dudley Riverbank 5:5 male, the Piva Male and the Ndzanzeni female. Some of the earlier but deceased descendants include the Tugwaan male, 3:4 female, Dudley Riverbank female and Nottens female. All of whom have the most incredible stories themselves and whose successors continue to provide us with a window into the secret lives of these wild cats. One such story is the incredible and almost unbelievable tale of the 3:4 female and the relationship she had with her grandson, the Dudley Riverbank 5:5 male. A story, which we will keep for a blog post in itself to be told next week.
Naturalist John Muir wrote, “when you tug at a single thing in the universe you’ll find that it is attached to everything else”. Looking at the story of the Mother Leopard is just this. The intricate web that has threaded outward from this leopard is never ending. A mysterious fractal of the universe. And for her arrival, the descendants she helped to produce, and the goodness and joy that has spun from witnessing her presence we are forever grateful.