The stubbornly dynamic presence and movements of leopards in the wild makes for a fascinating study. In an area as well-suited and sought-after by leopards as the Sabi Sands, the continued fight for territory, above that for survival, causes territorial shifts and transfers as individuals react to changing circumstances.
One thing that remained constant over a period of about 6 years recently was the presence of at least one feared and powerfully dominant male, the Camp Pan male.
But with the eventual demise of the so-called King of Londolozi more than a year ago, the absence of the Camp Pan male left prime territory in the heart of the property vacant. What soon followed was the death of his longest serving rival, the Marthly male, followed by the untimely disappearance of the younger Gowrie male who was just beginning to extend his territory into the vacancy. As these three males perished within a few months of each other, there were questions to be asked of healthy leopard succession in the central Sabi Sands.
Several younger males were testing the waters throughout that stage, although most either came up against unimpressed dominant females or each other while lacking any real challenging confidence. Most impressive during this period was the young yet bold Piva male who initially took charge. Inexperienced, nomadic males came and went but only a few had the resilience to entice highly competitive females as well maintain their territorial boundaries alongside that of the Piva male.
More recently it seems only the tentative Inyathini male and the enigmatic 4:4 male have what it takes to secure tenure adjacent to the marauding Piva male. All the while, a further upset came to the Sabi Sands in the form of the death of the Dudley Riverbank male only two weeks ago; the fourth loss of a dominant male leopard from the potential gene pool… Leopard instability guaranteed.
With gaping holes in previously occupied territory and the remaining younger males beginning to iron out prospective boundaries between themselves, and larger already dominant males to the north, such as the Anderson male, there is one individual failing to crumble into the quiet; the son of the late king.
Surviving his brother, Tu Tones, the Makothini male persists. Nearing 8 years of age, this large male boasts genes from the late and great Camp Pan male and gained independence at a young age. By the age of 5 he was territorial in the south-western parts of Londolozi and became a prolific warthog and buffalo calf hunter… One of the few to do so! Often trailing large herds of buffalo, he would ambush young calves with a fast kill bite before retreating out of the subsequent chaos within the herd to avoid the adults. Eventually the herd would move on, leaving behind the killed calf for the patient hunter who would then drag it to the nearest tree for feeding. These reoccurring hunts proved the Makothini male’s potential as a successful leopard.
During 2015 his territory shifted further south due to surrounding male pressures but this year he has begun smartly expanding and has been viewed on Londolozi a great deal more than before. His experience is evident now more than ever as he moves through changing terrain in search for one of the many females within his reach. He stalks from termite mound to termite mound on the trail of warthogs returning to their burrows, and he traverses the south-western grasslands with a sense of swagger as he bellows out a territorial call.
During the past two years’ disarray in the leopard front, the Makothini male has pressed on to become a reigning king in his own right. With the south-western regions of Londolozi in his firm control, may we start seeing greater expansion into the central property which currently supports several younger males?
His pressure could set the wheel in motion for more solidified territorial boundaries amongst the Piva, Inyathini and 4:4 males as the Anderson male expands from the north. The late king’s legacy may indirectly stabilise a currently questionable network of challenging males.