If you are familiar with the Leopards of Londolozi, you will know that each individual leopard is referred to by a unique name. As rangers, we are often asked about the naming process, why we do it and what it’s all about. In light of this, I thought it would be fitting for me to elaborate a little more.
The original viewable leopard of Londolozi, if not Africa. In 1979 this leopard appeared as if by magic, allowing vehicles to view her.
Prior to independence, a leopard will bear its mother’s name, followed by either “Young Male” or “Young Female” depending on the gender. For example, the Ximungwe Female’s cub is now fast approaching independence but has not yet reached this stage. Until then, he will be known as the Ximungwe Young Male.
Once a leopard reaches independence, and shows clear signs of becoming territorial or the likelihood of moving away from its mother, it becomes deserving of an ascribed name.
A single cub of the Ximungwe Female's second litter. Initially rather skittish but is very relaxed now. Birth mark in his left eye.
So where does a leopard’s name come from?
To put it simply, the process involves a discussion among the ranger and tracker team. We will gather together and put forward our best suggestions. The final decision is made on a name that holds significance and best represents that leopard to us as rangers and trackers. A suitable name should represent either an area in which they spent a lot of time, a feature of that area, their appearance or even character for example. This makes up the first part of the name.
Began as a fairly unrelaxed leopard in the southwestern parts of the reserve. Now providing great viewing in the open grasslands
The second part and a fairly important aspect is the spot pattern on the cheeks right above the darker whisker lines. So that their name then has the spot numbers starting with how many spots are on the right-hand side of the leopard’s face followed by a colon (:) and then the spots on the left-hand side of the face. The third part of the name is the gender.
The King of Londolozi in his day; an enormous male whose offspring still inhabit the reserve.
Why do we name leopards?
Our official standpoint is that we name leopards purely for identification purposes. Once we are able to identify the same individual over and over, a story begins to unfold and behavioural patterns inevitably emerge. These patterns give us a world of information about the individual’s territory, movements and behaviour for example. This information, coupled with their relaxed nature around vehicles, truly is the difference between us seeing a myriad of sporadic leopard sightings over the years that have no broader context; and us seeing deeply into the secretive lives of these elusive cats.
Forced into early independence as her mother was killed by the Southern Avoca Males.
Knowing where the core area of a leopard’s territory is can be incredibly helpful when trying to find them. Not to mention radio communication between us rangers. This helps us have a better idea during the game drives of which animals have been found and where. Regarding sightings, such information is submitted to Panthera – an organization that is devoted to the conservation of the world’s 40 species of wild cats and the vast ecosystems that they inhabit.
Panthera forms the most long-term, in-depth leopard study in the world today. By submitting our daily sightings and relevant information about each individual to Panthera they are able to track movement patterns, understand relationships, and essentially trace the paternity of the leopards through scat analysis. It is a great privilege for us as rangers, trackers and guests to play part in this ongoing research.
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.
At Londolozi, the leopards are the only animals we ascribe individual names to. They are solitary, territorial cats whose lives we attempt to understand through an extensive amount of record keeping. Records can only be relevant and true if we know which leopard did what and when.
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
Being able to identify individuals is important to us. Assigning names to leopards is simply a convention and only a very useful tool at most. One must never forget that these leopards are all completely wild animals and will go about their daily lives irrespective of what their name is and at the end of the day none of them even know what their name is that we refer to them by.
A small female often found in NW Marthly. Similar spot pattern to her mother the Ingrid Dam Female.
The empathy in human nature makes it difficult not to become invested in their lives once we begin following their life story. Witnessing some of their trials and tribulations, one cannot help but become invested in their successes too. There is no substitute for the in-depth knowledge we have gained about these elusive cats, other than by viewing the same individual at regular intervals.
A small leopard that was forced into early independence and struggled to establish territory. Moved around eating anything it could.
I hope this has been able to shed light on the importance of the naming process and why we do it. Ultimately, it is a great privilege alone to have a glimpse into their secretive lives. The name we ascribe to them will be what they carry forward into their independence. And hence, it is only fitting that much thought and consideration goes into each and every leopard’s name.