Spotting a leopard isn’t easy, especially when the leopard is hidden by foliage and in the shade of a thicket. Leopards are renowned for their elusive, secretive nature. While some are easier to find, others are a little more tricky. One male leopard in particular has built a reputation that perfectly matches the latter. The Maxim’s Male leopard could be described in three words by the rangers and trackers as “huge, exciting, and skittish”.
Fairly skittish male that is presumed to have come from the Kruger National Park.
Whilst out on a recent game drive we were sitting with a herd of elephants as they drank at a waterhole, we noticed a flicker of movement within some bushes not too far off. The perfectly disguised rosette coat of a leopard lay beneath the long thin leaves of a Magic Guarri bush. Somehow we had managed to spot this elusive feline; the Maxim’s Male. And, due to our past sightings of this male leopard, my initial thought was that this was as good as the sighting would get. Typically this male will avoid being seen and, if spotted, he would quickly make his way to a thicket where he’d wait in hiding until left alone.
The habituation of Leopards at Londolozi has played the ultimate role in the amazing viewing that we experience with these predators today. In most cases, the habitation process begins at the establishment of a leopard den site. This is where we get to spend quality time with a mother leopard and her cubs. Whilst it is absolutely extraordinary spending time at a leopard’s den, it becomes extremely crucial in the habituation process, ensuring that the cubs you are viewing begin to realise that the vehicle doesn’t pose any threat to them.
The habituation process can also occur with adult leopards, albeit somewhat at a slower rate. Often these cases involve male leopards that have moved in from elsewhere and are establishing new territories on Londolozi. These particular males may move in from areas where they weren’t accustomed to the sounds and shapes of vehicles or had not been viewed frequently when they were being raised by their mother.
The Maxim’s Male leopard is a great example of this. We began to see the impressively-sized leopard more often in the early parts of 2021, however, sightings of him were very brief and often through very thick areas as he constantly moved away from the vehicle. In fact, until a few days ago I had never managed to get a picture of the Maxim’s Male.
This sighting of the Maxim’s Male was an absolute highlight of mine. After resting in the thicket for not too long, the large male leopard began to get active. After yawning a couple of times and stretching his limbs, he stood up and began a territorial patrol. He meandered his way through a dry river bed, marking his territory and occasionally giving a territorial call, often known as rasping or sawing. We had the privilege of following this male for almost two hours!
He walked through open clearings, allowing us to loop ahead and appreciate a front-on view of him as he didn’t change his path, and even approached our vehicle. Upon getting closer, all of us in the vehicle got to appreciate his size, confidence and stature without us feeling like we were encroaching on his daily business.
From being used to viewing the Maxim’s Male for only a few seconds, to having the most incredible sighting of him for almost two hours gives me great hope for our observational possibilities with this amazing animal. The process of habitation cannot be accomplished overnight. Time spent with elusive cats over many days and on many drives, continues to allow us to view these predators the way we are able to. I cannot wait for the next opportunity we get to spend time with the Maxim’s Male leopard.