Clicking through a few old photographs recently, I was shocked at just how many leopards have come and gone during my tenure at Londolozi. Having said that, the number wasn’t anything abnormal; a certain amount of turnover is to be expected in a wild leopard population, and over 8 years of course many of what used to be familiar faces would have departed this earth.
I guess I just didn’t expect so many prominent leopards to no longer be with us.
The population has in fact undergone a complete makeover since I started here. None of the territorial leopards from then are still with us, and the young ones of the time have grown up, established territories and now go by new names.
Perusing the old photos, I thought it might be nice to travel briefly down memory lane, and revisit a few household names from the past.
See how many of these individuals you remember…
The Camp Pan male. For many years the undisputed ruler of central Londolozi, this male was notorious for walking long distances overnight, presenting a superb tracking challenge in the morning. Many times when on fresh tracks, a radio call would come in to say that the leopard had just been found a couple of kilometres away, testament to the speed at which he used to move when patrolling. Being father to the Mashaba female, and grandfather to the Nhlanguleni female, his genes are still very much a part of the Leopards of Londolozi.
One of the Camp Pan male’s offspring, the Tu-Tones male was a big leopard like his father. In an unusual turn of events, this male did not end up being forced out of his territory (his brother the Makhotini male moved off), partly we think because of a lack of genetic pressure; no related females were surviving in the area. Depending largely on the Camp Pan male to defend territory, the Tu-Tones male sadly struggled after the Piva male moved in, growing weaker and weaker until it is believed he was eventually killed by a troop of baboons.
Both the Camp Pan male (back) and the Tu-Tones male (centre) used to consort with the Tamboti female (front) at the same time. Being related, it was simply believed that the costs of fighting didn’t outweigh the chances of genetic success if they both mated with her.
The Piva male as a young leopard, the distinctive ring of spots on his forehead clearly visible here. This sighting was in the deep south of Londolozi, before we properly knew who this male was, and he was still nomadic. We had been sitting with a hyena about 2km from where the leopard was, but the alarm calls of an impala herd that the Piva male had had a go at alerted the hyena, who raced off to investigate. We simply followed the hyena and were led straight to the leopard.
Another male who once roamed a large portion of Londolozi; the Marthly male, easily identified by the chunk out of his right ear. Once controlling the entire stretch of the Sand River on Londolozi, down to the Maxabene riverbed and north to the Manyelethi, this male sired a number of cubs during his tenure, the Nkoveni and Tatowa females among them. Like the Camp Pan male, his genes are still very much a part of the current leopard population.
The Nottens female, one of Londolozi’s oldest leopards on record, who died around her 18th birthday. A descendant of the original mother leopard, the Nottens female occupied territory far to the south and was instantly recognisable by her pale colouration.
The 4:4 male was my favourite. Enigmatic at best, we would often go weeks without a sighting of him, even though we would find his tracks and hear him calling regularly. Preferring deep drainage lines to roads and never being too comfortable around vehicles, photographs of him were hard to come by, and this one was only possible because he had been treed by the Tsalala pride. Sadly he died in late 2016 as a result of wounds inflicted by the Mhangeni lionesses, daughters of the Tsalala females.
The Gowrie male shifts a large warthog kill to a more comfortable feeding position. This male moved in from the north, gradually applying pressure onto the then-dominant Marthly male and forcing him further and further south. To this day we don’t know what happened to the Gowrie male, we simply stopped seeing him. As with many leopard deaths in the north of the property however, the Tsalala pride remain prime suspects.
The Tugwaan male, also known as the Bicycle Crossing male or Short Tail male (after his mother, as his tail was actually normal length). Patrolling Londolozi’s south from East of the Sand River to the western boundary, this male lived to a ripe-old-age, fathering a number of prominent individuals along the way, including the Ndzanzeni female who is still aline and well. Although lineages are generally accepted to only flow through female leopards, this male was still a descendant of the original Mother Leopard.
The Tutlwa female, probably my favourite female leopard of Londolozi, with an impala kill in a marula tree opposite Varty Camp. This female was seldom seen, occupying territory to the north and west of the Londolozi camps. In winter of 2016 while suspected of denning a cub in the Sand River, she was involved in a scuffle with the Tsalala lionesses while in what was believed to be her den-site at the time. She was never seen again after this incident and it is believed that she must have died of her wounds.
A very rare photograph of the notoriously skittish Ximpalapala female, mother of the Tatowa female. This leopard would descend a tree and scuttle off if a vehicle got to within 100m of her, but fortunately in this sighting she had been mating with the Gowrie male, and seemed somewhat placated as a result.
I don’t know who this male is (and if anyone can help with an ID that’d be great). We were sitting on a nearby crest with some elephants early one morning, when the clear sound of leopards fighting reached our ears. Ranger Melvin Sambo reckoned he knew exactly where it was coming from, and racing down the hill, we caught sight of this skittish male who had just been mauled by the dominant Camp Pan male. There was time for about three quick photos before he rushed off, probably nervous about the vehicle but more likely desperate to escape the Camp Pan male. No one ever saw him again on Londolozi.
The Vomba female, many rangers’ and guests’ favourite, her rich gold coat a shining beacon of her place in the legacy of the Sunset Bend female. The Vomba female’s territory sat squarely around the Londolozi camps, and she would regularly be seen from the camp decks, or even bumped into walking along the paths at night. She disappeared in 2013, possibly also killed by the Tsalala pride.