It’s time to say goodbye.
With no sign of the Tamboti female for well over a month now, and the last official sighting being of her in very poor condition with deep lacerations all over her back legs and flanks, we have to now accept that she is gone.
We don’t know where or when her final hours were, but since she was looking poorly in the area near Tortoise Pan, close to the Maxabene Riverbed, we can presume that her final resting place is somewhere close by. Ironically, this is the core area in which the Mashaba female has now established herself, with her movements over the last 6 weeks being centred largely around the Pan, the Maxabene and Inyathini drainage lines.
The Tamboti female was certainly among the most viewed of Londolozi’s leopards over the past few years, providing some spectacular sightings for rangers, trackers and guests alike. Her large territory meant that she was often difficult to find, as if she hadn’t been seen for a couple of days, one didn’t have the first clue where to start looking.
The territorial shifts after her disappearance have continued as predicted, with some younger females filling in the gaps. The Three Rivers female continues to encroach from the east, as does the Ndzanzeni female from the south. The Tamboti young female, the last surviving offspring of the Tamboti female herself, is remaining in her mother’s old territory for now, but there’s every possibility that she will be pushed out by older and bigger leopards.
This is not meant to be a discussion about the possibilities of tomorrow, however.
It’s simply a photographic tribute to a leopard that dazzled people from all over the world for more than a decade. A leopard that thankfully left behind two female offspring to further her legacy, and a leopard that can take her place amongst the Londolozi greats.
No caption required really. The type of moment one spends one’s life dreaming about, but one so few get to witness.
The Tamboti female’s territory encompassed a number of open marula crests, meaning that if one was lucky enough to find her moving over a hilltop, the sighting was almost certainly going to be spectacular. Here she pauses to assess the hunting potential around a herd of impalas up ahead.
The cub viewing around this leopard has been nothing short of phenomenal over the last few years. Although she only ever managed to raise two offspring to independence, and statistically was nothing special in this regard, there were still a number of litters that provided incredible viewing while they were still alive. Here the 2016 litter is moved between den sites. Photograph by Rex Miller
A photo from later that same morning, after the female had left one cub in a hollow log and returned for this second one. The branches may have obstructed the photography, but a once-in-a-lifetime sighting like this still takes your breath away.
A hot summer’s afternoon saw the female lounging on a fallen marula tree in a thicket, surrounded by impala herds in every direction. She simply lay there during the hot hours, and as darkness fell she slipped to the ground and slunk off into the night. By the next morning she had caught and killed a young ram within a few hundred metres of where we had last seen her.
Yet another picture on a fallen marula. It can be difficult, but sometimes you have to remind yourself that the leopard is NOT simply climbing up and lying there for our viewing pleasure!
The Island female was the first cub the Tamboti female successfully raised. Born in early 2013, she remained with her mother well into 2014, after which she began moving further eastwards, eventually establishing territory outside of Londolozi. Here she gives chase to her mother, launching out of a rhino midden in which she’d been attempting to hide.
The south-eastern reaches of the Maxabene riverbed will still be associated with the Tamboti female for awhile, even though the Mashaba female seems to have set up shop there now. There were literally too many sightings of this iconic leopardess along its fringes or down in the sand to keep proper track of, but I know a certain sense of nostalgia surrounding the memory of the Tamboti female still permeates the riverine thickets whenever I drive down there.
Another photo with the young Island female. Ranger Greg Pingo had found the pair on this evening, as well as the Camp Pan male, who from tracks we deduced had been following the trail of the Tamboti female for some distance.
This was also a sighting with the Camp Pan male present as a third leopard. He had robbed a kill that the Tamboti female had made, and then hoisted it at dusk as three hyenas came running in. The female and her cub retreated to this fallen Knobthorn to rest and groom each other, while one of the hyenas continued to skulk below, searching for scraps.
This Jackalberry was about as perfect a leopard tree as one could hope for. The impala carcass was found on morning drive by one of the rangers (I forget who) as he was driving down the Maxabene riverbed looking for owls. He couldn’t fail to spot the dangling legs of the kill, and lying only a few metres from the base of the tree was the Tamboti female.
Greg Pingo gets another shout out here, as he spotted the Tamboti female on this morning. I had joined him on a game drive, and after sitting watching a pack of wild dogs Greg suddenly caught sight of the leopard lying near this pan. We were pretty sure that the wild dogs had separated her and her cub, for she was calling for the youngster from the moment we saw her. Eventually the cub came out from hiding and both leopards headed down to drink. I simply kept my shutter button depressed, shooting at high speed, hoping to capture both tongues out at the same time.
Sometimes the only view of a leopard we can get before it disappears into the thickets; a white tail-tip, displayed high after having been spotted by a prey animal, like this impala ram. The Tamboti female heads back into cover after a failed hunting attempt.
For over a year we would have occasional sightings of the Tamboti female (foreground), the Tu Tones male (middle) and the Camp Pan male all together. There were a number of theories doing the rounds to try and explain this, the bulk of them stemming from the fact that the Camp Pan male fathered the Tu Tones male. Ultimately, the “why” was usually secondary to the “what”, which was three adult leopards together.
The Tamboti female gave birth to her last litter in the Autumn, which meant that by the time she started taking them to kills, it was winter and most of the leaves had fallen off the deciduous trees, like the marula pictured here. An open tree with clear sky behind it is the ideal photographic setting for a leopard, and we were treated to some spectacular views.
I think this was the last time both the cubs from her last litter were seen together. The next time the female was found, only was cub was present, but we never found out what happened to the second. Given that there were no tracks of lions moving through the area, we suspect that it was taken by a hyena.
In the thicker conditions of summer, it often behoves a leopard to climb the most convenient tree to get a view. Simply staying on the ground and blindly wandering about the thickets is a sure way to get into trouble, as evidenced by the Anderson male/Tsalala lioness sighting from a few days ago. Here the Tamboti female descends a marula tree that was growing out of the dense round-leaf teak and bushwillow thicket she had been moving through.
Dave Dampier’s dramatic shot of the female midway through dragging a fresh impala kill to a thicket. She was glancing back towards where the rest of the impala herd was still snorting their alarms, and she was fully aware of what this might portent. Sure enough, two hyenas arrived within minutes and managed to steal the kill. Fortunately, the leopard eventually managed to steal it back again.
Pete Thorpe, Bennet Mathonsi and their guests enjoy front-row seats to some spectacular viewing.
The joys of summer; shaking off the water after a brief rain squall.
Still one of Londolozi’s greatest ever wildlife photos. The Tamboti female reclines on a fallen tree she was using as a den-site, while the next generation of Londolozi leopards peers out from within.