On a recent drive with well-renowned wildlife photographer, Sergey Gorshkov, we came across two large elephant bulls feeding alongside the road. Even though we were in search of a leopard, we couldn’t give up the chance for an intimate encounter with these gentle giants. As we marvelled at their detail and sheer size only feet away from us, tracker Lucky Shabangu turned to me and asked, “Can you see what’s in front of me?” Working together with Lucky and understanding his tone and expressions I knew it was something important. I peered around him and only a few yards away from Lucky’s feet, very close to the elephants, lay the Tatowa young male leopard. We had been so drawn into the size and power of the two pachyderms that none of us had turned our heads to the left.
The elephants seemed undeterred by the young male and went about their feeding activity. I don’t blame them. How would a fifty odd kilogram leopard have any impact on a four ton elephant?
The leopard seemed intrigued by the elephants’ movements and watched each individual closely. I guess it’s just the inquisitive nature of a young leopard.
Eventually the leopard settled down in a small outcrop of boulders as beautiful evening light broke through the clouds. To confirm it was the Tatowa young male (born early in 2017) I searched through a few photos I had previously captured, only to suddenly realize that it was exactly one year prior to the day that I sat with Sergey in a late afternoon sighting of the Tatowa female and her two cubs and we were able to get a few great photographs of the male cub! The same male that now sat right in front of us!
It was amazing how his inquisitive character remained the same yet how much the male had grown in 365 days. We try not anthropomorphisize when it comes to animals yet I couldn’t help but immediately recognize the facial expression of this young male and how similar it was to the photo I had of him from when he was tiny. It was the first similarity I noticed before getting into detail of spot patterns.
The Tatowa female was one of a litter of three females born in early 2012 to the Ximpalapala female of the north.
This highlighting simply highlighted the joy we feel in experiencing changes in an environment us guides are lucky to spend our days in.
As this male grows he is more than likely to move off and establish a territory of his own. Although he is already independent he still needs time to grow and hone in his skills before competing with another male, mating with females and passing on his genes. It’s only a matter of time before we see him no more and he establishes territory out of his father’s (the Inyathini male) territory and hopefully furthers his own legacy.