I started writing this blog a while ago but had to take it out of the lineup after the untimely death of the Robson’s 4:4 male. I wanted to share with the blog readers a bit more of his unique story, at least from my perspective. It is not unusual for male leopards to hold a large territory – it allows them access to multiple female leopards – but the fact that the 4:4 male was comparatively much smaller in size than his neighbouring counterparts made him a fascinating leopard to observe.
This rangy male was an enigma, arriving on Londolozi in the mid to latter parts of 2014 and staying mainly in the western areas.
Despite his unfortunate death last October after a mauling by the Ntsevu pride, I still find it relevant to examine the large area occupied by this small and underestimated cat. Since his death, much has been discussed about his territorial gains, his small physique and his skittish behavioural traits. However, I would like to examine the size of what was once his territory in comparison to that of the much larger Piva, Inyathini and Anderson males, and how his death has led to a huge shift in territorial boundaries of these three, as well as the introduction of the Flat Rock male.
Directly descended from the original mother leopard and therefore part of the royal lineage of Londolozi.
Another leopard who originated in the Kruger National Park, he has established a large territory in the south eastern areas of Londolozi.
Unofficially the biggest leopard in the Sabi Sands, the Anderson male is an absolutely enormous individual in north western Londolozi.
A leopard who took advantage of the death of the 4:4 male in 2016 to grab territory to the west of the Londolozi camps.
Little was known about the 4:4 male when first viewed on Londolozi at the end of 2014, which made it exciting for all rangers and trackers. The possibility of new animals arriving from the Kruger National Park and surrounds is something we all value highly and keeps game viewing here really interesting for us. He was seldom seen and it stayed like that throughout his existence on Londolozi. He was so small that his tracks could at first glance get mistaken for those of a female, and even once spotted from a distance it could be assumed that he was an adult female, not the full-grown male that he was. His nervous behaviour made it a very challenging task for trackers and rangers to track him down and even view him from the vehicle.
At the time of his death, the Piva male occupied a relatively large territory, extending over the boundary with Mala Mala, rarely venturing close to the central parts of Londolozi or around the lodge. The Inyathini male, also skittish upon first viewing on Londolozi, occupied the area south and west of the Piva male. The Anderson male, widely regarded as the largest leopard in the Sabi Sands, occupied the territory north of the river, extending to the northern most parts of the Sabi Sands. With these much larger males surrounding the 4:4 male’s territory, how did he manage to occupy such a large area?
After the death of the 4:4 male, territorial boundaries began to change quite quickly.
The Piva male expanded his territory much further west and is now regularly seen scent marking around the Londolozi camps and even further west from there. The Inyathini male has been able to move his territory further north into some areas previously occupied by the Piva male. Although still comparatively unrelaxed around the vehicles, his growing territory is allowing us greater viewing opportunities of him. The absence of the 4:4 male in the northern sections of the reserve has led to the steady encroachment south of the Anderson male, also allowing a greater frequency of sightings. The availability of the central area of what was the 4:4 male’s territory allowed for the establishment of the new Flat Rock male.
These shifts in territorial boundaries amongst male leopards is certainly the same thing that has been occurring for centuries. We are just privileged that with the unrivalled viewing opportunities afforded to us and the detailed record keeping of the leopard’s movements, we are able to see clearly the impact that one male’s death has on the surrounding individuals.
No-one will ever know how the 4:4 male maintained such a large territory given how small he was compared to his neighbours, and neither he nor they will ever be able to tell us.
All I know is that many of us respect him all the more for it.