A lot has happened in 2020. The world kind of got turned on its head, and people’s attention was necessarily on global events rather than the quiet demise of a leopard.
Yet the big male who has dominated the central parts of Londolozi for the better part of a decade has been slowly slipping away, and it’s probably time to give him his due.
It was back in 2014 that an unknown, aggressive male leopard first started being seen in the south-eastern sector of the reserve. He would slink off into the long grass as soon as he realised a vehicle had caught sight of him, and if he was found on foot and startled… forget it! You weren’t going to see him again on that drive.
We occasionally get nomadic males wandering in from the Kruger Park. Arriving as they do from a huge wilderness area where they are unlikely to have seen many people, they are invariably shy, and sightings of them are hard to come by. The Inyathin male was one of these.
I remember stories of him charging vehicles in his early days, of this unknown male hurtling down out of a tree he was spotted in, and mock charging a Land Rover full of guests, then darting back into cover.
You learned to keep your distance, and it was more than two years before the leopard became relaxed enough around the game viewers that we could enjoy sightings of him in which he essentially ignored us.
I think it was this completely unpredictable nature that added a touch of trepidation to any sighting of him you approached as a ranger. Your eyes were scanning the bushes with extra intent as you drove closer, seeking that low profile you knew would be watching you, and analysing as quickly and accurately as possible the mood of the leopard. If he seemed relaxed, great.
If not, give him plenty of space!
A prominent water course running from west to east across the centre of Londolozi gave him his name; it was along this drainage line that he would be seen regularly, or if not seen, heard giving his rasping cough as he moved through the core of his territory; a territory that in his prime covered almost fifty square kilometres.
And now his time has nearly run its course.
Although without DNA testing its hard to accurately identify which male fathered which cubs, it is more than likely the Inyathini male has a number of progeny currently roaming the Sabi Sand Reserve and beyond: the Tatowa young male (dispersed), Tamboti young female (dispersed), quite possibly the Ximungwe young male and almost certainly the Tortoise Pan male. He can therefore be deemed to have been a success in his genetic goal, which for a male leopard is ultimately his life purpose; reproduction.
The last confirmed sighting of him on Londolozi was from early Lockdown – I believe April, with maybe one in May. He has apparently been seen east of us along the Sand River as recently as three weeks ago, but I think personally it’s time for me to say goodbye.
I’ve driven his old haunts repeatedly over the last 6 months, and the Nweti, Maxim’s and Senegal Bush males hold sway there now, with no sign of their predecessor.
The Inyathini male has most likely been consigned to the twilight of a male’s life; non-territorial, vagrant, keeping as low a profile as possible.
Maybe he’s already gone. A swift death after bumping into the Ntsevu pride in the reeds. Or maybe like many before him, he succumbed to wounds sustained in a fight with a younger rival, and simply faded away during the night.
Whatever the case, I doubt I’ll see him again.
I won’t waste time saying anything trite like “Goodbye old friend”.
We weren’t friends.
This leopard wouldn’t know me – or any other human – from a bar of soap. He was a wild animal, his behaviour – at least in the last few years – unaltered whether we were watching him or not.
Instead what I’ll do as I pass by any spot where I enjoyed an amazing sighting of him, is simply nod my head in respect to a beautiful animal, and drive on my way.