The Hukumuri male is one not mentioned many times before on this forum, but he has been seen encroaching into the northern parts of Londolozi more and more frequently over the past month or two.
In fact, the ever-increasing presence of foreign males to the north of the Sand River begs the question of just how strong the Anderson male’s hold is on the area. We’ll leave that debate for another day, as the case of the Hukumuri male is in itself noteworthy for far more than simply being a new leopard to add to the list of individuals seen. In terms of dispersal, he’s something special.
Leopard males usually move out of their natal territory when they reach sexual maturity. Their fathers don’t want the competition, so act aggressively towards their sons to force them to seek life elsewhere. This is what the textbooks tell us anyway, but it doesn’t always happen, as we are currently witnessing in the dynamic between the Tortoise Pan male and his father the Inyathini male, and what we have seen before between the Camp Pan and Tu Tones males.
A bigger factor in the lack of dispersal is likely to be the genetic pressure – or lack thereof. Male leopards ideally don’t want to mate with closely related females, so move to a different area in order to procreate. Although this dispersal can be far (depending of course on environmental limitations), research has shown that it is actually usually no great distance; often as little as 10km. Many of the male leopards we see were born on neighbouring reserves and have been followed since soon after birth. The Flat Rock male apparently came from the Tinga property, right next door to the Sabi Sand Reserve. The Makhotini male was born on Londolozi and moved just south on Sabi Sabi. The Anderson male was born to the east of Londolozi back in 2008, and simply moved across over the years.
The Hukumuri male certainly came from a neighbouring reserve, but not quite next door. Photographic evidence has shown that he came from the Kruger Park, and not just over the boundary, but almost 100km away, right down in the south-east corner near Crocodile Bridge! And he didn’t come to Londolozi as the crow flies. No, he was viewed as a young male on Ngala Reserve to our north, which is over 130km from where he was born. He then moved south through the Manyelethi Reserve before eventually establishing himself in the northern parts of the Sabi Sand Reserve.
That’s a lot of walking for a young male to do, and one of the best things we can take from the Hukumuri male’s long march is that it almost certainly indicates a very healthy leopard population all the way along his route. He most likely kept moving because of consistent encounters with or at least awareness of big territorial males; if the space was occupied, it wasn’t safe for him to stay, so he pushed on.
And now here he is.
Whether the Hukumri male has simply been an itinerant visitor to our northern reaches or whether he is set to become more established (which we suspect), the story of where he came from to get here is – at least for me – the coolest part about him. And if I’m honest, I haven’t even seen him yet! Let’s hope he keeps walking right onto Londolozi.