If you haven’t read Saturday’s blog, then just to fill you in, this is a follow-on from my brother, Josh Attenborough’s beautiful account of the time our paths crossed at Londolozi.
Two particular snapshots of our time together have shown us the power of reflection. He shared an experience we had on foot in an ancient leadwood forest and I’d like to share what transpired after that sighting.
Josh’s most revered animal had always been a leopard, despite him only ever having had a single brief sighting of one before he came to Londolozi. It was these cats’ elusive nature that drew him to them and so one of my dreams was to give him the opportunity to meet and understand them more fully. On our first game drive we had a wonderful sighting of the Nkoveni female with one of her cubs but the particular sighting I’m about to recount had even more of an impact on both of us.
Incredibly, the 5:5 male was adopted as a cub by his grandmother, the 3:4 female, and raised by her to adulthood.
A gorgeous female who is found to the east of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
We were exploring the northern part of Londolozi and had just left the leadwood forest when we heard reports that not far from the Sand River, the Dudley 5:5 male leopard had been found. He had sustained considerable injuries and was lying amongst the russet bushwillow thickets, sparse from winter. I had always loved this leopard with his arresting blue eye and his intriguing story that gave insight into how much more complex leopards are than we’ve come to believe.
He had been in an unfortunate fight with the Tsalala Pride, who were denning cubs nearby, and judging by the tracks he’d been ambushed by the two lionesses. This leopard had an incredible history and had made it through many very testing times in his life. Wanting to share this with Josh we went to see him to check the extent of his injuries, hoping that this was just another challenge he would overcome.
As I recounted to Josh, this leopard was born in the south of Londolozi and was a descendant of the Mother Leopard, who established the lineage of leopards that have made Londolozi the leopard viewing mecca that it is today. As a young cub he inexplicably left his mother, the Dudley Riverbank female, and joined his grandmother when the two females came across each other one day. Unusually, the 3:4 female (his grandmother) accepted him as her own and he continued to live with her and the rest of her litter for another three years.
As a foolhardy youngster, he attempted to establish dominance in his father’s territory and after an epic fight with the Tugwaan male, eventually headed east out of Londolozi. During his young life he was also seen challenging the Camp Pan, Marthly and Emsagwen males. It seemed he was set to oust the Camp Pan male but in a turn of events the Emsagwen male was killed and the Dudley 5:5 male headed east, taking over this territory left vacant by the Emsagwen male.
It was reportedly during one of these many territorial fights in his life that the 5:5 male lost sight in his left eye. Despite this being an obvious hindrance to hunting, he continued to successfully feed himself. What was even stranger about this leopard was that in the last few months of his grandmother’s life the pair were found sharing carcasses. Although male and female leopards are sometimes found on kills together, it is usually because the males have bullied their way into the situation, and once they have appropriated the carcass it is very unusual to see them share. Here though the female could never have forced herself on this stronger male and it seems that the bond which formed between them during the male’s infancy and adolescence, remained throughout his life.
Upon arriving, we saw the leopard lying flat on his side. His breaths were shallow and had long gaps between them. Despite the approach of the vehicle he didn’t even lift his head. We sat with him for a short while before deciding to leave, not wanting to draw unnecessary attention to him. After living such a hardy life we left with a sliver of hope that he could come back one more time despite the severity of his injuries. Unfortunately when we returned the next morning, the damage inflicted by the lions had just been too severe and his shallow breaths had stopped altogether. Although this was an incredibly sad moment to share with Josh, it was also a very real one. In this one leopard’s limp frame were so many stories that shook up what we thought we knew about these creatures and his life would inform how we looked at all leopards going forward.
During the global lockdown and at a time where life feels like it is on pause we have the chance to reflect on what has impacted us and the times that have shaped us. By remembering these we get a sense of what it is that we really treasure. Rather than become nostalgic, saddened or stuck in the past, it can help to show us what we truly value.
Just like how the Dudley Riverbank 5:5 male impacted my reverence for leopards, I hope this global time of contemplation enriches our perspective on life going forward.