Following the dynamics of the lion prides and leopard territories in an open, unfenced system like the Sabi Sand Wildtuin can be rather entertaining. I often liken it to watching a captivating and dramatic television series. Each day is a new episode where the characters evolve and their stories continue to develop. At any one time, there are multiple different ‘scenes’ on the go – a Nkuhuma Lioness wandering off, away from her pride with the young Plains Camp Males; will they mate?
Or yet another heated standoff between the Senegal Bush Male and Mawelawela Male at Rhino Dam; both parties relentlessly holding their territorial boundaries in that area once again. Some characters are centre stage a lot of the time. We as guides and trackers connect with the Ximungwe Female, for example, several times a week while other leopards feature a lot less and sit on the peripheries of the plot of the story at Londolozi.
One character that has begun to feature more and more is the White Dam Male. This impressive male leopard has carved out a large territory for himself in the southwestern corner of the reserve, extending far beyond our traversing boundaries. The region is not typical leopard habitat which means that the density of other males there is low and competition is slim. However, this by no means indicates that the White Dam Male is some slouch. He is incredibly thick-set and heavy with large forequarters and a low hanging dewlap – quite similar in appearance to a younger Inyathini Male (although not related), in my opinion.
He holds well-known genes in that he is likely to be the offspring of the Makhothini Male (litter mate of the late Tu Tones Male and presumed offspring of the Camp Pan Male) who was born and raised in the central-eastern parts of Londolozi by the Mashabene Female. The White Dam Male’s mother was the Calabash Female who was territorial south of Londolozi – in a similar area to where the White Dam Male actually resides nowadays.
Large handsome male found in the deep southwestern parts of the reserve.
Rumours of this large young male being spotted in the southern reaches of the reserve started to emerge in late 2018. At that stage, the White Dam Male was still fairly young (he was born in 2014) and therefore nomadic or, at the most, commanding a smaller territory. However, he remained scarce. I would estimate that he was seen less than ten times between 2018 and 2020 until more recently, in the last 6 months, he has evidently begun to expand his horizons and is being found on a far more regular basis than in the past. Despite this, on a personal level, he continued to evade me and I was left as one of the only current rangers at Londolozi to not have seen him! Until finally, a couple of weeks ago, I had my first encounter with this incredible leopard.
We had set off into the deep southwest in search of the mother cheetah and her two cubs. After nearly two hours of searching, hopes were dwindling as the light was fading. Tracker Euce and I began to discuss a good spot to stop for sunset drinks when we rounded a corner and bumped into two young giraffe bulls that were playfully necking in the road ahead of us. In the soft golden light of the setting sun, it was a scene worth stopping to admire for a moment. A few minutes had passed and the giraffe had slowly shuffled off the road and we were about move on when Euce suddenly said to us,
“Ah! There’s a leopard in that tree!”
Just 20 meters off the road, on the opposite side to where the giraffes were, Euce had spotted a leopards tail dangling from the dense crown of a Scotia tree. Immediately the White Dam Male came to my mind as I knew we were in the heart of his territory. As we drove closer, over a rather rocky section of ground, I explained to my guests that this could be a first for me. The foliage was rather thick in the tree so it was only once we were nearly beneath it that I could confirm it was a large male leopard! A closer inspection to the spot pattern told us it was indeed the White Dam Male! He had caught a warthog, presumably the night before, and was busy feeding on it in the tree while a lone, albeit very patient, hyena rested at the base, hoping for a few tasty morsels to drop from above.
The find had changed the entire atmosphere of our afternoon and the fruitless efforts at finding the cheetah and her youngsters had left our minds. We marvelled at the crunching sounds of the leopard’s jaws as he fed on the kill and awaited his potential descent. Just as the sun had set, he rose from his feeding position, briefly groomed on the adjacent branch and effortlessly brought his heavy body down from the tree. After a quick scent-mark, he walked up to our vehicle and settled down in the grass just a few meters away from us. We sat with him until the light had completely gone and left him to rest into the night. What a dream first encounter with the White Dam male – hopefully, the first of many.