It’s a discussion I have had with quite a few people recently: what does “loss” mean to us in the context of the bush? Why should the death of a big cat affect us so deeply, when buffalo are currently being killed by lions at the rate of sometimes more than one per night and we hardly bat an eyelid?
The reasons are fairly obvious, in that we follow the individual predators’ lives, immersing ourselves in their stories, whilst the more common animals like impala just make up the numbers. But should this necessarily be the case? The leopards and lions don’t care about us, and if all the Land Rovers were to one day simply disappear, the lives of the predators of Londolozi – indeed the lives of all creatures here – would continue on as normal.
Yet we find ourselves profoundly moved by the death of an individual predator. And as much as we can debate it back and forth, discussing the appropriateness of our emotions and whether it’s right to feel something for an animal that is most likely devoid of emotion itself – at least emotion in the form that we perceive it – ultimately I still feel that our sense of loss when a predator dies is a good thing. It is part of our connection to the wilderness and the fundamental value we place in the beauty of nature that is touched.
I guess at its core, the ability to mourn for what is lost is part of what actually makes us human.
The 4:4 leopard, the dominant male that roamed an extensive area between the Tugwaan drainage line in the south-west right up to the Manyelethi River in the north, sadly departed this world last week.
We found him lying in state at Cheetah Pools Pan early one morning, having succumbed to injuries sustained in an encounter with the Mhangeni Breakaway Pride a week or two before. His body was untouched by hyenas or other scavengers, and he had an almost peaceful look on his face. I have no shame in admitting I had a tear in my eye upon seeing him, as did my guests. Alfie Mathebula had seen him at the waterhole the previous day, still alive, and reported that he was not in very good condition; most likely he had some internal injuries that caused him to weaken. Unable to hunt, his condition would have steadily deteriorated until, sometime during the night between when Alfie saw him and we found his body, he would have simply closed his eyes and slipped away.
Of all the animals I have seen come and go during my time at Londolozi, his death has affected me the most. And I don’t really know why.
He was a leopard we hardly ever saw, and it was usually only his rasping call emanating from a deep drainage line that alerted us to his presence. If we hardly ever saw him, how could we (or at least, I) feel such a connection to him? The Mashaba female I have viewed regularly for six years, since she was newly independent. The Nkoveni female I have been viewing since she was barely 24 hours old. Yet it was the 4:4 male, one of Londolozi’s most elusive and shy individuals, that I felt the greatest affinity towards.
I guess in some ways he served to remind us of the wildest elements of old Africa; an Africa devoid of human presence. His reluctance to be viewed only added to his allure as an enigmatic animal, and whilst other leopards on Londolozi have had their lives recorded in journals and in media throughout the world, the 4:4 male is destined to always occupy a space in the shadowlands of the Leopards of Londolozi.
Despite hardly being viewed, he will be sorely missed.
The discussion as to what happens now, with a huge blank space to be filled in on the map by other males who will be contesting the rights to his territory, I will leave for another day.
What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal – Albert Pike
The 4:4 male’s life was for him alone. Fathering cubs, defending territory, hunting, all the things that make up the life of a male leopard.
What he has done for others, and by ‘others’ I mean those of us lucky enough to have viewed him – as oblivious as he may have been to the impact he was having – was to remind us of the true beauty of his species. The iconic elusiveness that defines quintessential Africa for so many. The Africa still shrouded in mystery.
Track by track, call by call and sighting by sighting, the 4:4 male, more than any other leopard during its tenure at Londolozi, served to feed our imaginations as few others have done before him, or likely will again…