“Male leopard tracks head north towards the Manyeleti River. They look fresh.”
Those were the words I was delighted to hear from tracker, Bennet Mathonsi. We had been driving around for quite some time on a warm morning with little to see. These were the first tracks we had seen and we were already close to three hours into our morning game drive. We looped around onto the other side of the Manyaleti River to try and see if the tracks came out from the river, which would indicate the direction we should start tracking. I started to lose hope again after having driven almost the whole length of the road. Hope was not lost though…
All of us saw the incredible sight photographed above at the same time. I had to quickly shush the guests and contain everyone’s excitement so as not to scare all possible life away with the gasps and shouts of joy. Being one of the largest leopards in the Sabi Sands, Bennet and I almost immediately and simultaneously identified this male as the Anderson male. I was overjoyed to see him, not only because of his impressive size, but also because he is seldom seen – especially not lying out in the open in a tree with a kill.
Unofficially the biggest leopard in the Sabi Sands, the Anderson male is an absolutely enormous individual in north western Londolozi.
Just at the base of the large Marula tree lies a prominent termite mound. A number of hyena were walking around the base of the tree hoping for some of the warthog meat to fall to the ground. We hypothesise that the leopard must have perched next to, or on the mound and waited for the warthogs to emerge before ambushing one. The reason we think it waited for them to emerge and not to return is because as we drove up towards the mound initially, two warthogs rushed out at a frightening speed with their hair standing on end. It must have been the first time they had emerged since their fellow sounder-member was ambushed.
Interestingly, now that the warthogs had left the burrow, the hyenas began to dig out the warthog burrow further. They would then slowly back into the holes, with their heads facing out, and would wait patiently with the hopes of eventually getting some scraps of food. Some individuals took to lying right at the base of the tree itself. This posed a problem for the leopard as he could not get down without landing on a hyena. The Anderson Male became very restless. We wondered why? It soon became apparent. He needed to urinate… He eventually lay on the branch and let it all out right there, straight onto a hyena’s head below the tree. This was somewhat hysterical, as the hyena just lay there and looked up, wondering where this warm shower was coming from.
“Another leopard! Another leopard!”, one of the guests exclaimed from the back row. She had a view past the termite mound and when movement caught her eye, she noticed a female leopard lying on a fallen log. We could not believe our luck.
Born to the Tutlwa female in early-mid 2011, the Nhlanguleni female spent her formative months (and years) in and around the Sand River.
The Nhlanguleni female had been there the whole time and we had not noticed her until now. Her presence also explained why the Anderson male had become so restless. He wanted to mate with her.
The Anderson male took a long time to descend, but he eventually did. It took a large leap over the (wet) hyenas head to do so and after descending, the Nhlanguleni female hastily approached him and instigated Lordosis (a term used to describe the flirtatious behaviour of some female mammals prior to mating whereby the back is arched downward).
In a matter of minutes, we were witnessing leopards mating, right out in the open, not far from the vehicle. The size difference between the leopards was incredible. The Nhlanguleni female was far north from her usual territory and would have had to wander through the Nanga female’s territory in order to reach the Anderson male, so as to increase her chances of spreading her genes. Seeing these beautiful animals interacting so oblivious to us and in such close proximity was a truly special occasion.