My Londolozi colleagues will laugh at me for this one, as I don’t usually like admitting that I’m wrong, but in this case I am more than happy to, as it has now become clear that one of the reserve’s most impressive leopards still has his eye!
I am of course talking about the Anderson male, who we (I, cringe) reported as having lost his left eye in an unknown incident.
Unofficially the biggest leopard in the Sabi Sands, the Anderson male is an absolutely enormous individual in north western Londolozi.
Take a look at the picture below, which was taken on the morning of when he was first discovered with the injury:
As you can see, things in that left eye socket don’t look too good… Swelling and lacerations, as well as what appeared to simply be an empty hole where his eye should have been, led us to jump to the conclusion that his eye was gone, which I duly – and mistakenly as it now turns out – announced.
Now take a look at Don Heyneke’s photo from a day or two later:
Again, the prognosis was not so good. We certainly don’t profess to be wildlife veterinarians, but one can still see how whatever happened to the leopard has caused some serious swelling around the socket, and of a viable eye there doesn’t appear to be any sign in the photo.
This kind of drama defines life for a wild animal out in the bush, and although whatever actually took place (unconfirmed reports of him being hit by a rhino were received, and there were also compelling arguments that he received the injury in an altercation with the Flat Rock male) seemed to have resulted in a major setback for this enormous leopard, we didn’t believe it to be life-threatening, as leopards are remarkably efficient at adapting.
Then in a different sighting of him a few days after the above picture was taken, ranger Guy Brunskill was viewing the Anderson male after dark up in a tree, and the spotlight playing on the leopard’s face certainly seemed to have two eye-shines reflecting back. The eyes of nocturnal predators – among other mammals – reflect light back from the torch beam due to a reflective layer called the tapetum lucidum, and from the double eye-shine, Guy was convinced that the leopard still had an eyeball, concealed somewhere back in the recesses of the injured socket.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was skeptical about Guy’s claim, having seen the injury myself and presuming that the eyeball must have ripped out. I imagined that the reflection would be due to some sort of fluid seeping into the wound.
How wrong I was.
A chance meeting along Londolozi’s northern boundary with Colleen Bekker, a guest at one of the Sabi Sands’ northern lodges, soon cleared things up.
The Anderson male had crossed north out of Londolozi the day before, and Colleen had seen him and captured the following pictures, which she was kind enough to send me:
When we met on the boundary Colleen showed me a magnified photo on her camera in which one could see the faint hint of an eyeball, and what almost certainly looked like the leopard’s pupil. The second photo above was the one Colleen was particularly excited about, as it shows the Anderson male in the spotlight, and Colleen informed me that his pupil had constricted in the spotlight, which it wouldn’t be if the leopard had lost fully function in his eye.
Then the final irrefutable proof came when James Souchon snapped the cover photo of this post in a sighting of the Anderson male with a warthog kill, a zoomed in version of which can be seen below:
James was of course thrilled to present these photos to the rest of the Ranger and Tracker team, and we can now officially confirm that the Anderson male still has his left eye. Whether the eye is fully functional or not we can’t say for sure, but the outlook for the leopard is certainly far more favourable than it was a couple of weeks ago.
We hope this good news gets everyone’s week off to a good start!