There is a world somewhere between reality and fiction. Although ignored by many, it is very real and so are those living in it. This forum is about the natural world. Here, wild animals will be heard and respected. The forum offers a glimpse into an unknown world as well as a room with a view on the present and the future. Anyone able to speak on behalf of those living in the emerald forest and the deep blue sea is invited to join.
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Leopard Directory

Argentina Tshokwane Offline
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#31

(09-03-2016, 07:42 PM)Ngala Wrote: Very nice work @Majingilane, i enjoy it. Very Interesting. If there aren't a problems for you, i insert the other males (alive, for now) present in the Londolozi Blog.

Not at all, it will be a great contribuition, and on one sitting I can only do a few, my pc gets really slow if I keep up for too  many posts. 

Londolozi have made that part of the blog in a much better way, it is extremely interesting.
‘Like night-watchmen they patrol the dark nights; marching with intent and chasing all those unwanted into the shadows…those that do not run are removed’
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Italy Ngala Offline
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( This post was last modified: 01-31-2017, 06:05 PM by Ngala Edit Reason: add other photo )

Credits to Londolozi Blog - Leopards of Londolozi.

Kaxane 3:3 Male

2005 - Present

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Unique Markings: Distinctive Greenish Eyes.

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A male not often viewed on Londolozi, the Kaxane male (Kaxane means ‘far’ in Shangaan) is seen mainly in Singita and the western sectors of the reserve.  He was born to the Kapen female of Mala Mala in 2005,  and upon independence moved south into Sabi Sabi. He then began pushing north and westwards, establishing territory on the Castleton and Savannah properties towards the end of 2009.


This male has very distinctive rich green eyes and a conspicuous notch in his right ear.

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"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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Italy Ngala Offline
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( This post was last modified: 02-05-2017, 11:06 PM by Ngala Edit Reason: add other photo )

Credits to Londolozi Blog - Leopards of Londolozi.

Makhotini 3:3 Male (Maxabene Male)

2008 - Present

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Unique Markings:
Triangular spot pattern on right cheek.


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The brother of the Tu-Tones male from the same litter, the Makhotini male has had a far more successful life.  Dispersing at around three years of age, as is normal for young male leopards, he moved into the south western grasslands of Londolozi, an area not renowned for its leopard population, but by virtue of that fact, not hotly competed for.

Slowly this leopard expanded his territory further to the south and west, eventually venturing far beyond Londolozi’s borders to control a substantial portion of Sabi Sabi, as well as the far south-eastern corner of Singita. He has mated with a number of females in the area and sired cubs with the Little Bush female. It is likely that he fathered the Tatowa female’s first litter as well.

General game numbers differ in much of his territory, and the Makhotini male has adapted by hunting a larger variety of prey than other leopards. He has been seen hunting buffalo calves out of large herds on a number of occasions, and reedbuck and aardvark are some of the more unusual prey species that he has been recorded catching.

Territory
This leopard has established a large territory which extends from south west Dudley over much of Sabi Sabi. One of the reasons his territory is so large is that the open grasslands which dominate the area are not as flush with general game, and therefore not as desirable as hunting habitat. Fewer females inhabit the area and so the Makhotini male is forced to roam far to access mating opportunities.

2010

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2011

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2012

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2016

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"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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Italy Ngala Offline
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( This post was last modified: 02-05-2017, 11:13 PM by Ngala Edit Reason: add other photo )

Credits to Londolozi Blog - Leopards of Londolozi.

Nyelethi 4:3 Male

2009 - Present

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Born to the Nyelethi female in 2009, this male was one of three cubs that all survived to independence. His sister is the Nanga female and his brother the Nyelethi 2:3 male, who dispersed northwards, while the 4:3 brother moved south and west.

Initially spending time around the Londolozi camps, tolerated to a degree by the Marthly male (believed to be his father), he eventually dispersed westwards, establishing territory in Singita and Othawa.

This male rose in notoriety when he killed the Ravenscourt female in June 2013 when she was trying to protect her cub (now the Ravenscourt male, seen in southern Singita). He has established himself in the western sections of Singita and Othawa, but does have quite a significant territorial overlap with the Kaxane male in the southern reaches of the Singita property.

Territory:
Since independence this male has established himself in western Singita and Castleton.

2011


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2012

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2013

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2014

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2016

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"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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( This post was last modified: 02-06-2017, 08:56 PM by Ngala Edit Reason: add other photo )

Credits to Londolozi Blog - Leopards of Londolozi.

Piva 3:2 Male (Selati Male, Treehouse Male)

Mother: Maxabene 2:2 Female (Western Female)
Father: Camp Pan 4:3 Male (Xmobonyane, Princess Alice Pans Male)
Littermate: Tu-Tones 3:2 Male (Newington Male)
Sons:
2014: Kigelia 3:3 Female -----> Mother: Little Bush 3:3 Female

2010 - Present

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Unique MarkingsRing of Spots on Forehead.

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Scar on nose.

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Directly descended from the original mother leopard and therefore part of the royal lineage of Londolozi, the Piva male was born to the Piva female beyond our southern borders. Born in 2010 in a litter of two, his sibling was killed by the Tugwaan male leopard later that year, but the Piva male survived to independence, moving into the southern reaches of Londolozi during his nomadic years and occasionally being seen during 2012 and 2013.

In 2014 he began establishing himself properly in the south east, forcing out the old Camp Pan male and taking over a territory that runs from the north eastern corner of Londolozi almost to the Tugwaan riverbed in the south.

He is easily recognized by the distinctive oval of spots on his forehead.

Territory:
A male that has claimed a fairly large territory in eastern Sparta and eastern Dudley, focusing much of his time and hunting around the Maxabene drainage line. It seems this leopard even has favourite trees for hoisting carcasses in and has been found in a few Jackalberry's and Schotia's repeatedly.

2013

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2014

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2015

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2016

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"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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The Airstrip male is dead (June 2016).

From Londolozi Game Reserve, 06 July 2016: Lions Kill Leopard: A Tribute To The Dudley Riverbank 5:5 Male by Amy Attenborough.
There’s a leopard that lived on Londolozi that has the most bizarre and beautiful story.  It begins with him being adopted by his grandmother as a cub, later caring for her in her old age and sadly ends with him being killed by the Tsalala Pride. The books teach us that leopards are strictly solitary, only meeting to mate, fight or when they have cubs. This particular story is the complete antithesis of this though. He was a leopard that taught us that the secret lives of these cats are far more complex and intriguing than we had imagined possible and so in memory of him, I’d like to recount the details of his astonishing story.

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The Dudley Riverbank 5:5 male is Londolozi royalty, a part of the Mother Leopard bloodline, the leopards that have made Londolozi what it is today. He was born in a litter of two to the Dudley Riverbank Female in 2006 and about three months later her mother, the 3:4 female had a litter of her own.

One day, these two females were on separate kills on a section of the Sand River, quite close to each other, when it seems they must have crossed paths, and something strange occurred…

Ranger Tom Imrie was returning back to camp one evening soon after and quite unexpectedly the form of a female leopard appeared in his spotlight. They identified her as the 3:4 female and as she crossed the road, they noticed her young cub tagging behind. Quite astonishingly, a few steps behind them trotted out another cub, only this one was three months older! The 3:4 female turned around and hissed at this young leopard but he continued to follow her and her biological cub, seemingly unperturbed. Two days later the trio was found together again, except this time the grandmother was grooming the new addition to her litter and from that day on these two leopards didn’t separate again for another three years.

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As a youngster the 5:5 male was known for his antics and Helen Young, a Londolozi ranger at the time, remembers how on one occasion he stole a picnic blanket from under the nose of a rather confused chef who was sent into the bush to set up an alfresco lunch. Helen laughs, saying that “the blanket was sighted again… but in five pieces and up three different trees”. She remembers another time a tracker rather foolishly took off his jacket while following the Dudley Riverbank male’s tracks, and after a long and unsuccessful morning, returned to the tree in which he had hung it. “He was met by the leopard, capering around in the top-most branches of the self-same tree, very pleased with his new coat… It took four days before we could retrieve it”, said Helen.

Melvin Sambo, one of Londolozi’s most experienced rangers, says that one of his favourite sighings ever involved this young cub. It was a sighting in which they saw six leopards all together on one kill! The group included the 3:4 female, her daughter the Dudley Riverbank female, their two litters of cubs as well as the cub’s father, known as the Tugwaan male. Melvin says the Dudley Riverbank male was incredibly relaxed around vehicles as a cub and he gave much joy to Londolozi’s guests and staff during these early years of his life.


The 5:5 male strolls past Ranger Talley Smith and a group of Londolozi guests. From years of being photographed, there must be thousands of photographs of this particular leopard scattered across the globe. Photograph by James Tyrrell

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The Dudley Riverbank 5:5 male patrolling through his territory. Although male leopards typically establish a territory far from where they were born, this male never strayed too far from his birth place. Photograph by James Tyrrell

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Upon independence he wandered only slightly north of his mother and grandmother’s territories, apparently not wanting to drift too far from home. This is rather strange behaviour for a young male leopard because it meant that he stayed right in the heart of his father’s territory and quite literally challenged this much older and stronger male to the right to the area. Despite his rather foolhardy attempts, he lost in an epic fight to the Tugwaan male and subsequently moved east over our boundary. In the space of one day, Londolozi rangers and guests went from spending countless hours with this particular male to not seeing him at all. 

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He did eventually come back though and went on to fight with the Camp Pan, Marthly and Emsagwen males. For a while it looked as though he was set to oust the Camp Pan male from central Londolozi, and indeed during the early and middle parts of 2011 it certainly looked as though this was inevitable. Then the Camp Pan male got granted a lifeline with the disappearance of the Emsagwen male in the east, as the DRB 5:5 male moved east to claim this vacant area. We didn’t see him much after this, only occasionally bumping into him as he skirted round the fringes of Londolozi, but his rasping call would regularly be heard east of our boundary.



The 5:5 male’s eye after he lost sight in it. It must have affected his depth perception abilities and yet this leopard still managed to hunt for himself, proving the resilience of these creatures. Photograph by Amy Attenborough

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One of the most incredible things he did as an adult leopard though was to share some of his carcasses with his ageing grandmother, the 3:4 female, who by that stage was struggling to hunt for herself. This is unheard of behaviour in the usually secretive world of these solitary cats. 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.

The 5:5 male after catching a warthog piglet. This male is renowned for rather strangely having shared his kills with his now deceased grandmother when she was old and frail. Photograph by Trevor McCall- Peat

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Although we only ever saw this male sporadically once he’d reached maturity, he is one that we respect greatly. Despite losing sight in one eye he survived and continued to fend for himself regardless, and carved himself a territory despite being surrounded by numerous very strong male leopards. Sadly the final chapter of this male’s life is a tragic one and about two weeks ago, he was killed by the Tsalala pride of lions. Although we found him already injured, the tracks showed that he was ambushed and severely mauled by the two adult lionesses that have been secreting cubs in the rocky outcrops along the Manyelethi Riverbed. Judging by his wounds it must have been an intense and prolonged battle. He was outnumbered and outsized and eventually succumbed to his wounds later that same day.

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The Dudley Riverbank male’s story is one that epitomises the inherently tough, intriguing and complex life of these incredible cats. He gave countless people moments of great joy and most importantly proved that no matter how many hours you spend with leopards, you can never really be sure what these cats may do. For us, he showed that maybe the bonds between these solitary cats runs deeper than we previously imagined possible and we’re so fortunate to have caught glimpses of him at various stages of his journey. Although he spent much of his life away from Londolozi, his story began here and ended full circle here and he’ll go down in our books as a true Londolozi legend. 
"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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Italy Ngala Offline
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( This post was last modified: 11-01-2016, 03:30 PM by Ngala )

From Mala Mala Game Reserve, 14 July 2016: The Airstrip male (June 2006 – June 2016) by Pieter van Wyk.


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Photographs: Pieter van Wyk, Daniel Bailey, Matt Meyer, James Moodie, Dave Landey, Dean Wraith, Jonno Short, Jacques Proust

fighter /’fī-tər/
Someone who does not easily admit defeat in spite of difficulties or opposition.

The textbooks tell us that to truly appreciate nature it must be looked at void of any human emotion, especially when doing so through the eyes of conservation. However, six years with the Airstrip male taught me more about leopard behavior than any textbook possibly could and indeed, in many cases, taught me that the textbooks on panthera pardus are in need of some rewriting. So, in the spirit that embodied his life, his obituary will at times read somewhat against the grain.

A unique start to life
In June of 2006 the Dudley female gave birth to a litter of two male cubs fathered by the Bicycle Crossing male. Both were successfully raised to independence but they would part ways earlier than most and under unheard-of circumstances. At a young age the cubs were feeding off a kill with their mother when hyenas sniffed it out. Confusion ensued, and they were all separated. The Dudley female managed to locate one of her cubs and she successfully raised him to independence- he became known as the Charleston male and was territorial in the southern parts of the property. The Newington female, the grandmother of the cubs, happened to be in the vicinity when the cubs were lost and coincidentally had also just temporarily lost a cub of her own. The aging leopardess called gently for her cub and the remaining cub of the Dudley female responded to her calls. He was adopted by his grandmother and also survived to independence. This extraordinary event was only the first chapter in what would turn out to be the Airstrip male’s remarkable life story.

A crowd favourite

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First impressions
I can clearly recall the first time I saw him scent marking around the airstrip- a young male confidently strutting his stuff in an area that encompassed the overlapping territories of three huge dominant males. He was, and would continue to, punch above his weight. Even at his prime the Airstrip male was by no means a big male leopard. Short and stocky but what he lacked in size he easily made up for with courage.


Making his mark by Matt Meyer

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Making his mark
Upon engaging in the task of expansion, his first obstacles were the three aforementioned males. His father, the legendary Bicycle Crossing male was not particularly old at the time but was perhaps past his prime- he shifted his territory further south in response to pressure from his son. The Princess Alice Pans male, who was a large specimen residing further to the west was next on the list. Against the odds, the Airstrip male was able to intimidate his larger adversary enough for the big male to retreat. As a sign of his rising dominance, the Airstrip male was then seen mating with the Western female who had preferred the Princess Alice Pans male on many occasions in the past.  The threat to the east possibly presented his greatest challenge and this came in the form of the Emsagwen male. Arguably the largest male leopard to have graced MalaMala in recent memory, he too was an influence in pushing the Bicycle Crossing male south. In an unexpected turn of events, the Emsagwen male disappeared in the winter of 2011. He was a mature male controlling a large territory, and we can only speculate as to how he was killed. His disappearance meant that there were now large tracts of land up for grabs and the Airstrip male was on hand to reap the benefits.

He quickly came to control an enormous empire from the Airstrip and a couple miles westwards, to Marthly in its entirety, the Mlowathi and northwards into the Tslebe Rocks male’s kingdom and finally east of Emsagwen and southwards along the Matshapiri River. After a while he began to change his territorial routes and abandoned a portion of his new kingdom. This was perhaps a smart move. Male leopards will try and control as big an area as the individual can effectively control, limited only by his ability to cover ground and to dominate other males he may come into contact with. The result of establishing a large territory means that it will incorporate the territories of many females, which has obvious benefits for the male. The areas that the Airstrip male neglected were mainly to the north and east. He ceased to visit the areas anywhere north of the Gowrie boundary and east of Emsagwen.




Arch rivals – I get knocked down but I get up again
His list of opponents grew to include the Tslebe Rocks male, the Gowrie male, the Hogvaal male, the Newington male, the West Street male and the son of the Tslebe Rocks male but the honour of being his nemesis would be bestowed upon the Marthly male (aka ‘Tyson’)- a brut of a leopard who boasted a unique blonde ‘mane’. We witnessed many an encounter between these two as the Marthly male advanced deep into the Airstrip male’s territory. It’s fair to say that the Airstrip male was on the receiving end of all the encounters but he simply refused to surrender an inch of his land. One day we’d watch him get dominated and the next we’d see him defiantly scent marking, seemingly sporting his new battle scars as if they were medals of honour.  Despite clearly winning all the battles the Marthly male lost the war. He did however leave his mark.

Battle scarred one eyed wonder- by Dan Bailey, James Moodie, Dave Landey and Pieter van Wyk

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One eyed wonder
Blog extract from September 2013 by Ranger Gary Hill:

“The Airstrip male leopard has sustained an injury to his left eye as a result of an aggressive encounter with the Marthly male leopard. The photograph shows the injury clearly. At first glance it would appear that he cannot see through that eye, however, what you see is the inner membrane or inner eyelid, also known as a nictitating membrane. This eyelid, apparent in all cats, plays an important role in maintaining the surface of the eye. The photograph indicates that both outer and inner eyelids are badly bruised, causing the eye to appear shut. Upon closer examination, we noticed that when the Airstrip Male looked intently at an object, the nictitating membrane would fold back. This allowed his eye to be used normally.
We hope the Airstrip male recovers from this injury. Secondary infection is unlikely, but would worsen the condition substantially. Although we do know of other male leopards with only one eye, having survived such an injury, a full recovery is possible.”

His eye never recovered but yet again he soldiered on. Being blind in one eye never seemed to hamper his abilities.

Companions by Pieter van Wyk

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A family man
Leopards are solitary. Lions are the only social big cats. Well, if that’s the case then my eyes must have deceived me because I’m sure I watched the Airstrip male spend some ‘quality time’ with members of his ‘family’. I’ll admit that’s being economical with the truth but the fact of the matter remains that on several occasions this male was viewed in the company of related leopards and the atmosphere was anything but hostile. On a couple different occasions I saw this male spend time with the Kikilezi female and her/his cubs. Just as with male lions, he was never overly affectionate but was also far from aggressive and tolerated the inquisitive cubs. Even when the youngsters became independent he tolerated their presence. There were also accounts of him sharing meals with his aging mother. 





Close encounters. By Jonno Short, James Moodie and Dean Wraith

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Interspecies
Some of my most memorable sightings with this leopard involved interactions with other predators, most notably lions and hyenas and indeed it was his nonchalant approach to the former that won over much of our respect but would also ultimately lead to his demise. Between the rangers there are many accounts of him strolling towards a pride of lions, way past the point where most leopards would’ve chickened out. He would then normally observe them for a brief period before moving away but on the odd occasion the lions detected his presence and gave chase. Every chase that we witnessed ended in a safe escape for the Airstrip male however I can recall at least two instances where we found him sporting deep gashes along his hindquarters with lions nearby. The Airstrip male also treated us to many spectacular and peculiar sightings with hyenas. One of them took place at a giraffe carcass and had the Airstrip male and a hyena peacefully feeding together and by ‘together’ I literally mean a foot apart. They would take it in turns to chase off the vultures before continuing to feed side by side.

Another one of my favorite sightings took place close to midday in sweltering summer heat when we watched him kill an adult warthog. The kill itself was a rush but it was the aftermath and his dual with an enormous female hyena that will stick with me for many years- the patience, stealth and calculated aggression he displayed optimized his ‘never-say-die’.




Extract from a blog by Ranger Dean Wraith:

“…Just as we were about to leave, chaos broke out 30 meters from us and three young warthog came tearing past the car. We then heard the distinct sound of a warthog in some serious trouble. We moved the vehicle forward and there the action was, the Airstrip male had caught a rather large female warthog and the fight was on. Initially the warthog held its feet with the leopard hanging off, key for the leopard at this point was to flip the warthog over onto its back. The Airstrip male being a smaller male leopard but tenacious, managed to do just that and flip the warthog onto its back and that was all she wrote. Well so we thought. As the warthog slowly but surely was fading, a hyena started to approach the scene, realizing that it was a leopard the hyena stormed in and the Airstrip male was off to into the bush. The hyena had scored a full meal but not before the warthog had one last burst of defiance and had a go at the hyena. The damage had however been done and the warthog breathed its last breath as the scavenger began to feed.”

The Airstrip male had expended much energy and with the sun beating down took refuge in some nearby shade. The hyena had also succumbed to the heat and barely fed off the carcass for a couple hours. This fight was far from over. As the sun descended towards the horizon, the temperature cooled and the hyena began to feed again. The Airstrip male was laying just ten meters away and would soon initiate his plan to recover what was his. At first he made cautious approaches and snatched up some of the scraps before the hyena charged at him. As he got closer the hyena’s attacks intensified. Like a battering ram she pummeled him backwards multiple times. On a few occasions she made solid connections that saw the leopard tumble backwards in a rather embarrassing fashion and I even shared a few laughs with my guests at the leopard’s expense. In our view this battle was over but yet again the Airstrip male defied the odds. You know in the movies when a street-fighter, smaller in stature than his opponent, gets knocked to the ground repeatedly but keeps on rising to his/her feet again and again? Remember how he/she licks the blood that’s dripping down his/her lips, smiles defiantly and then runs in again? Yeah, that’s pretty much what this looked like. As darkness fell the leopard’s advances became more and more aggressive despite being pinned back every time. It must be added that most of his advances at night started with remarkable displays of stealth. He’d stalk up to within feet of the hyena without being detected. Eventually, when the time was right, he attacked with no holds barred and after a brief but intense scrap the hyena threw in the towel.

Killer instinct by Dan Bailey, Dave Landey and Pieter van Wyk

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Killer instinct
It was never beneath the Airstrip male to scavenge a meal from another leopard or to feed off a fresh or rotting carcass when he stumbled upon it (like that four meter plus rock python near Bicycle Crossing). That being said he was also a great hunter and often went after warthogs and baboons- both challenging targets even for a male leopard. One kill that left me somewhat in disbelief occurred near Maurice’s Pan.

We were following the Airstrip male as he marched along one of his usual patrol routes when he noticed a troop of baboons and before we knew it he was out of our sight. It was summer and the vegetation was lush. The baboons were roughly forty meters away and most of them were foraging on the ground, barely visible if at all except for three baboons; the big alpha male and two adult females. These three were perched on a horizontal branch about a meter and a half off the ground and only a foot or so above the sea of green. We had no idea where the leopard was or which of the twenty plus baboons he was setting his sights on so we just sat and waited. A couple minutes passed. I was rummaging through my center console and when I looked up the scene that met my eyes initially played out in slow motion- the horizontal branch now only supported two baboons with dislodged leaves floating gently around the space that was occupied by the third. Then in frenzy all hell broke loose with an explosion of panic, ear piercing distress calls and resounding alarm calls. The troop had no idea what was going on and the leopard was still out of sight. Our eyes scanned every inch of the vegetation in front of us but only after a minute or so did we realize that the Airstrip male was already forty meters behind us and with a dead baboon in his jaws. He managed to stalk, kill and extract undetected. Undoubtedly one of the most impressive sights I’ve ever ‘witnessed’.




Bloodline
At this point in time we cannot state without doubt which offspring are his. The reason for this is quite interesting indeed- female leopards in this part of the world have learnt that by mating (and pseudo-mating) with two males during the same period increases the cubs chances of survival as both males will assume paternity. A nifty trick that also leaves us at a loss especially when the female is literally mating with both males at the same time- yes, sightings of three leopards mating. DNA samples have been submitted to determine who (if anyone) will carry on the Airstrip male’s bloodline. We’re waiting for the results and will share them as soon as we can. We know of at least eight female leopards that he copulated with.


Do not go gently into that good night. By Jacques Proust

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Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light
By all accounts the Airstrip male went out fighting. Reports state that his body was found under the shade of a bush. He’d dragged himself to this position before passing away. Tracks nearby suggested that he’d been involved in a scrap with two lions- two varying reports both point the finger at the members of the Marthly pride, either the two lionesses with cubs or two of the sub-adult males. I’d like to think that it went down something like this… The Airstrip male noticed one lion on it’s own and advanced figuring “Hmm, just the one… yeah, I got this.” Only to realize, when it was too late, that his blind eye had let him down and there were in fact, two lions. I’m sure he went out like he lived: all guns blazing!

In conclusion
The Airstrip male will always hold a special place in many a ranger’s heart. His fighting spirit and ability to overcome the odds combined with the ‘affection’ he showed towards his own will always be remembered. A true legend of MalaMala Game Reserve.

The Airstrip male lived and died like any wild animal should- in the wild. We as a people are already doing a lot for conservation but much more needs to be done. The world is dealing with an unprecedented spike in illegal wildlife trade, threatening to overturn decades of conservation gains. Stamping out wildlife crime should be a priority because it’s the largest direct threat to the future of many of the world’s most threatened species. It is second only to habitat destruction in overall threats against species survival.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

Gone but not forgotten by Pieter van Wyk

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"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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( This post was last modified: 11-01-2016, 03:29 PM by Ngala )

The Robson's/4:4 male is dead (October 2016).

From Londolozi Game Reserve, 22 October 2016: An Obituary for an Unknown Entity by James Tyrrell.
It’s a discussion I have had with quite a few people recently: what does “loss” mean to us in the context of the bush? Why should the death of a big cat affect us so deeply, when buffalo are currently being killed by lions at the rate of sometimes more than one per night and we hardly bat an eyelid?

The reasons are fairly obvious, in that we follow the individual predator’s lives, immersing ourselves in their stories, whilst the more common animals like impala just make up the numbers. But should this necessarily be the case? The leopards and lions don’t care about us, and if all the Land Rovers were to one day simply disappear, the lives of the predators of Londolozi – indeed the lives of all creatures here – would continue on as normal.

Yet we find ourselves profoundly moved by the death of an individual predator. And as much as we can debate it back and forth, discussing the appropriateness of our emotions and whether it’s right to feel something for an animal that is most likely devoid of emotion itself – at least emotion in the form that we perceive it – ultimately I still feel that our sense of loss when a predator dies is a good thing. It is part of our connection to the wilderness and the fundamental value we place in the beauty of nature that is touched.
I guess at its core, the ability to mourn for what is lost is part of what actually makes us human.

The 4:4 leopard, the dominant male that roamed an extensive area between the Tugwaan drainage line in the south-west right up to the Manyelethi River in the north, sadly departed this world last week.

*This image is copyright of its original author

We found him lying in state at Cheetah Pools Pan early one morning, having succumbed to injuries sustained in an encounter with the Mhangeni Breakaway Pride a week or two before. His body was untouched by hyenas or other scavengers, and he had an almost peaceful look on his face. I have no shame in admitting I had a tear in my eye upon seeing him, as did my guests. Alfie Mathebula had seen him at the waterhole the previous day, still alive, and reported that he was not in very good condition; most likely he had some internal injuries that caused him to weaken. Unable to hunt, his condition would have steadily deteriorated until, sometime during the night between when Alfie saw him and we found his body, he would have simply closed his eyes and slipped away.

Of all the animals I have seen come and go during my time at Londolozi, his death has affected me the most. And I don’t really know why.

He was a leopard we hardly ever saw, and it was usually only his rasping call emanating from a deep drainage line that alerted us to his presence. If we hardly ever saw him, how could we (or at least, I) feel such a connection to him? The Mashaba female I have viewed regularly for six years, since she was newly independent. The Nkoveni female I have been viewing since she was barely 24 hours old. Yet it was the 4:4 male, one of Londolozi’s most elusive and shy individuals, that I felt the greatest affinity towards.

Plaque Rock; an iconic site on Londolozi to view a leopard. A more perfect spot for a leopard like the 4:4 male to be viewed I cannot imagine…

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I guess in some ways he served to remind us of the wildest elements of old Africa; an Africa devoid of human presence. His reluctance to be viewed only added to his allure as an enigmatic animal, and whilst other leopards on Londolozi have had their lives recorded in journals and in media throughout the world, the 4:4 male is destined to always occupy a space in the grey area of the Leopards of Londolozi.

Despite hardly being viewed, he will be sorely missed.

*This image is copyright of its original author

The discussion as to what happens now, with a huge blank space to be filled in on the map by other males who will be contesting the rights to his territory, I will leave for another day.

"What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal – Albert Pike"

The 4:4 male’s life was for him alone. Fathering cubs, defending territory, hunting, all the things that make up the life of a male leopard.

What he has done for others, and by ‘others’ I mean those of us lucky enough to have viewed him – as oblivious as he may have been to the impact he was having – was to remind us of the true beauty of his species. The iconic elusiveness that defines quintessential Africa for so many. The Africa still shrouded in mystery.

Track by track, call by call and sighting by sighting, the 4:4 male, more than any other leopard during their tenure at Londolozi, served to feed our imaginations as few others have done before him, or likely will again... 
"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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Short history and interesting information about the Robson's/4:4 male, now unfortunately deceased (October 2016).

From Londolozi Game Reserve, 18 January 2016: Is This Londolozi’s Most Enigmatic Leopard? by James Tyrrell.
Enigmatic: difficult to interpret or understand; mysterious.

The word ‘enigmatic’ can be used a lot when it comes to leopards, sometimes to the point of cliché. There is a leopard currently on Londolozi however, who more than lives up to the tag.

The Robson’s 4:4 male, usually just referred to simply as ‘the 4:4 male’ is dominant over the most traversed areas on the Londolozi reserve, yet we know almost nothing about him. He arrived in early 2014, but we had very little inkling of his presence, aside from a few fleeting glimpses of an unrelaxed male running away from vehicles or trackers, usually in the densest of thickets.

The male’s arrival at Londolozi unfortunately coincided with the early days of the Mashaba female’s litter of three, and when these cubs disappeared, it was strongly believed that this unknown nomadic male may have been the culprit. Having said that, the old Dudley Riverbank female was also seen in the area at the time, and there is a chance she could have killed any unrelated cubs she came across, so I guess the mystery will forever remain unsolved.

The first time I properly viewed this male was when he was treed by the Tsalala pride on the hill-crest opposite camp. Unfortunately for him he had moved right past where the lions were dozing, and when they chased him he had to seek refuge in this tall marula, allowing us a good look at him.

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Far more concerned by the lions than the vehicles, he remained in the tree for a good 30 minutes before climbing down and making a bolt for it.

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The fact remains that the new 4:4 male came on to the scene just under two years ago, and very little was seen of him at first. His unrelaxed demeanour suggests that he originated in the Kruger National Park and never became used to being approached by vehicles. The earliest records of him are from the northern parts of the Sabi Sand Reserve in 2012 as a subadult, but what he did and where he went in the two years after that remains unclear.

He would turn up sporadically over a large section of Londolozi, and we were at first unable to work out any pattern in his movements. The only time we would view him consistently was when he began mating with the Mashaba female, and we are almost certain he is the father of her current cub.


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What surprises me most about him is his hold on prime territory along the Sand River despite his small stature. When we found him in late 2014, we weren’t 100% sure of his identity, and his physique suggested that he was still a subadult. Subsequent photographic comparisons revealed him to be the very same 4:4 male, and apparently fully grown, given how readily he took over territory. I think luck was a significant factor, as he happened along at a time when the Marthly male was ageing.

Having charged in to scatter four adult hyenas off their buffalo kill, the 4:4 male was able to quickly snatch some meat before once again being chased off by the clan.

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Even though he has been territorial on Londolozi for almost two years now, the information we have of him and his movements remains sketchy at best. He will occasionally turn up on a kill, or we will hear him vocalising from deep drainage lines, but sightings continue to be erratic. He is certainly not cut from the same cloth as the Camp Pan or Marthly males, who grew up in the Sabi Sands Reserve, becoming habituated to vehicles early on, and who used to patrol down the centre of the road in plain view. No, no, that is not how the 4:4 male does it. He frequents hidden game paths, dry riverbeds and thickets, and if he gets to a road, he will more than likely move straight across it to get back into cover.

Late 2014. A skinny frame belies the fact that the 4:4 male was busy establishing a prime territory in some of the best leopard habitat in the world.

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His territory encompasses those of the Mashaba, Tutlwa, Nkoveni, Nhlanguleni and Nanga females, so mating opportunities for him are rife. We believe the Nhlanguleni female is also secreting a litter somewhere in the river, most likely fathered by the 4:4 male, but no-one has yet caught a glimpse of the cubs. The Nanga female has been viewed crossing all the way from the Manyelethi River in the north to the Maxabene River in the south, taking a big risk by crossing through rival female’s territories, purely to mate with the 4:4 male.

Although the Nanga female has been seen actively seeking out the 4:4 male for mating purposes, he is still essentially out to serve his own ends. Here he descends a Jackalberry tree after having stolen the remains of an Nyala kill from her.

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I haven’t seen this male for over two weeks now, in fact I don’t think anyone has. Maybe he’s been sitting on kills in some hidden part of the reserve, maybe he’s just been spending time in the river, no-one can be sure.

All we know is that he continues to remain elusive, mysterious, and yes, a frustrating leopard to look for.

I think Enigmatic sums him up pretty well...
"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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From Mala Mala Game Reserve, 15 February 2016: Naming cats. Part one
Text: Dave Landey | Photographs: Dave Landey and Adi Stander

There are no fences between MalaMala and the Kruger National Park, which we share our entire eastern boundary with. It has been this way for over 20 years now. Occasionally, we will see unidentified animals on the property – some fairly briefly before they return back to whence they came, while others will remain and claim the area as their own.


A fairly recent example of this would be the Matshapiri pride – arriving not even a year ago, and already so well established in the area. Lions are not the only additions we have seen on the property within the last year however, we have had a few new leopards too. Of the fair number of unknown individuals seen, there are two which have been seen repeatedly. To the extent where we feel it is warranted that these individuals are named, accordingly.

The Accipiter male


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This young male was initially seen around the central parts of the Matshapiri river, namely Emsagwen waterhole. We estimate that he is about 5 years old, judging by his impressive size and condition of his coat/physical appearance – which is excellent. The Accipiter male, has been seen virtually every month since April, 2015. We are most certain that this individual has immigrated from the Kruger National park, as he was unaccustomed to vehicles initially – thus, he was usually viewed from some distance. Over the months, with much careful driving and respect of the leopard’s personal space – he has grown in confidence and is now very comfortable with vehicles.

A majority of our earliest encounters with the Accipiter male were of him moving; through thick bush, over dry river beds. Getting to know the lay of the land. Photograph by ranger Adi Stander.

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Posing briefly, in a magic guarri thicket, this eye level shot affords a good perspective to appreciate the Accipiter male’s heavy set frame. This image, coupled with the previous, are some of the first images taken of the Accipiter male. Photograph by ranger Adi Stander.

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"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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( This post was last modified: 11-07-2016, 03:52 AM by Ngala Edit Reason: Updating new name )

The Kunyuma male

Name: Kunyuma/Senegal Bush male
Meaning: Kunyuma means "shy" in Tsonga language.
Spot pattern: 3:3
Born: 2012, late Nov. - early Dec.
Father: Mvula/Leadwood/Thlebe Rocks male
Mother: Karula female
Littermate: Quarantine/Q-male

Introduction about the Kunyuma male.

From Londolozi Game Reserve, 07 July 2016: Who is The Kunyuma Male? by James Tyrrell.
A few mornings ago Amy Attenborough and I were driving away from Mahlahla Dam, having been to investigate the carcass of a young elephant calf that had died. We had been getting some footage of the Tsalala pride that had discovered the carcass overnight and had been feeding through the morning. The Anderson male leopard had also been seen in the area two days before but had moved on without touching the carcass, possibly having been reluctant to attempt to drag it from the mud.

Anyway, the fact that the Anderson male had been seen there got us talking about the new leopard dynamics that would develop as a result of the death of the Dudley Riverbank 5:5 male. With the space now available, would the Anderson male expand further east or would some other individual step in? The 4:4 male pops up all over the show, so we couldn’t rule him out. The discussion was made more interesting by the death of the Maliliwane female earlier this year, so in fact there is a vacancy for a territorial male and female leopard in Londolozi’s north-east corner.

Our discussion was prophetic, in that less than 30mins later, after having returned to camp, we were being summoned back out by Londolozi’s ex-Head Ranger Oliver Sinclair, who reported two leopards fighting barely 100m from where the Tsalala pride was lying next to the elephant carcass.

We grabbed out camera gear and raced back to the scene, and it wasn’t long before we had a slightly obscured view of the female, lying with her back towards us in a bushwillow thicket, keeping a close eye on the male who was in turn watching her from a nearby slope about 40m away. Our initial guess that it was the Nanga female turned out to be correct after she turned and looked at us and we were able to get a better look at her face, but of the male we were not so sure. The Anderson male was an unlikely candidate, as this male was smaller, and the Anderson male has been seen mating with the Nanga female a couple of times over the last month or two. Excess aggression of the kind Ollie had reported between the pair would be unlikely.

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Eventually getting a decent view of him, we felt that something in his spot pattern was familiar, even though neither Amy or I had ever seen him before. Remembering a photo of an unknown male that Ranger Andrea Campbell had shown the rest of the ranging team recently, we were able to conclude that he was the Kunyuma male, a young leopard that has occasionally been seen around our northern boundary, and clearly now making a move into the area, quite possibly owing to the death of the dominant male.

Although we weren’t able to get great close-up shots, his spot pattern was identifiable through binoculars.

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The Nanga female waited for about ten minutes before trying to slink away, but the Kunyuma male trotted after her, keeping her in sight. She rested in the shade of a nearby tree after moving about 60m, and the male seemed very hesitant to approach, but as soon as she tried to retreat once more, he went rushing in, and with a fierce warning growl, and before any contact could actually be made, the Nanga female was forced to leap into the branches of a Marula tree to keep out of his clutches.

“Kunyuma” is apparently a Tsonga word for “shy”, and although this male was relatively relaxed around the vehicles, there was nevertheless a furtive quality to his movements.

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What he was actually hoping to accomplish we are not sure. He is still relatively young (born December 2012 to the Kurula female in the North) and is too small to be properly dominant over an area yet. More than likely a combination of curiosity, the Nanga female’s uncertainty over this new male in the area, his instinct to chase anything that runs away and possibly the instinctive desire to initiate approaches to a female combined with hesitation brought on by inexperience, all combined to make the interaction a bit confusing for both parties.

After treeing the female for the second time (Ollie had seen him do it once already), he trotted away to the south. We could hear squirrels alarming in that direction, but after they quieted down we assumed he had moved off, as did the Nanga female from her Marula tree perch; after a brief grooming session she descended the tree and moved off quickly in the opposite direction.

The Nanga female waits for the Kunyuma male to move off before descending from the tree.

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Since the Anderson male was seen in the same spot only 48 hours before and is much bigger than the young Kunyuma male, it is unlikely that the Kunyuma male will be able to stick around and claim the area for himself. He has a significant amount of growing to do before he can do that.

Interestingly enough, his littermate also put in an appearance on Londolozi last year, in the form of the Quarantine male, but as far as I’m aware he has not been seen on Londolozi soil since then.

In a year’s time, either of these two young males may well be challenging for territory on Londolozi, but for now I’m pretty confident it’ll be the bigger males that will be holding sway.
"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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( This post was last modified: 11-07-2016, 03:16 AM by Ngala )

The Flat Rock male

Name: Flat Rock male
Spot pattern: 3:2
Born: 2013
Father: Mbavala/Vin Diesel male
Mother: Porcupine/Doispane Collared female
Siblings: Rocky Ridge female (2014)

Introduction about the Flat Rock male.

From Londolozi Game Reserve, 25 August 2015: A New Leopard Or Just a Passerby? by Kevin Power
Leopards are territorial animals. Males and females will begin to establish territories once they have left their mothers and become independent. For a female it is sometimes slightly easier; as their mother usually allows them to establish a territory quite close to hers and studies have shown that young females sometimes even “inherit” a small part of their mother’s territory. For young males it isn’t always as easy, they receive a lot of pressure from the dominant male in the area, usually their father. This usually forces the young males to become quite nomadic, leaving the land they have grown to know around 2,5 – 3 years of age, and they begin to venture into unknown areas.

The young male stopped for a rest on his afternoon walkabout. He chose a large termite mound to rest on, no doubt to provide a good vantage point from which to scan the unknown area.

*This image is copyright of its original author

Even at the young age of three, he already shows signs of being a large male.

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A few days ago we had an “unknown” young nomadic male venturing onto the northern parts of Londolozi. My tracker and I were searching for leopard that afternoon, checking all the spots we thought we may find one of the elusive cats, or at least signs of one of them in order to steer us in the right direction. Driving down into the Manyaleti River, my tracker erupted with one of the more excited shouts of “leopard” I had ever heard. Across the bank from us a leopard sat watching us. One can see a leopard time after time, but it always seems to take your breath away every time you lay your eyes on these beautiful cats. The moment I saw it I noticed this leopard wasn’t as relaxed as we would expect from the usual leopards we find in that area (The Nanga Female or the Tutlwa Female.) I thought it may be as a result of the excited shriek from Ray but it wasn’t that. Upon closer inspection I noticed it was a male, a very young male and one that we didn’t know.

His slightly drawn in stomach shows he could do with a meal. It’s tough for young nomadic leopards to stay well fed, as they do not want to spend to much time in one place, attracting unnecessary attention to themselves.

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We managed to get a little closer to the leopard as he was showing interest in two klipspringers that were perched on the rocky outcrop he was walking over. Again I had a closer look and confirmed with my tracker Ray, we had certainly never seen this leopard before. He had now started to relax quite substantially, allowing us some really good viewing. His initial skittishness I would say was a combination of being out of his comfort zone combined with an ecstatic Raymond’s celebration.

Despite his steady pace, his attention is drawn to a herd of impala in the distance. Although intrigued, he continued walking, leaving the impala to browse undisturbed.

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I was very impressed with the confidence of this young male and was surprised to find out he was only around 3 years of age. Based on his size and confidence I would have aged him as a little older than that.

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He certainly showed all the signs of being a new leopard into an area. He was very aware his surroundings, stopping and listening to every noise he heard, possibly making sure that it wasn’t a dominant male in the area. He did have a small gash on his right front leg, most likely from a run in with another leopard, male or female, earlier on in his walk-about. He would stop every 5 minutes or so to sniff at a tree or a rock, picking up on the scent of a male or female who had previously passed by. The interesting thing was that he was walking through an area that was previously occupied by the Dudley River Bank 5:5 Male, which has now been left “open” since his unfortunate passing. Could he have worked out that there was an opening in the territory that he could potentially occupy?

He sniffs at a rock that another leopard would have left their scent on, more than likely a female who had passed through the area before him.

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Although he seemed confident, he was always very aware of his new surroundings. Typical behaviour for a young leopard in unchartered territory.

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Thanks to the power of social media and networking amongst guides in the Greater Kruger Park Area, I managed to find out who our visitor was. It turned out to be a young male called the Flat Rock male. He was born in 2013, to the Porcupine female and the Mbavala male. He has ventured all the way from the Kruger Park south of Londolozi and to the south of the Sabi River. He must have passed through numerous dominant males’ territories to get here and I’m sure he will continue to move through more areas he’s not welcome in. All of this is part of the learning process for young males and is natures’ way of spreading the gene pool. By doing this he moves far from the area in which potential sisters or mother holds territory, meaning he has more of a chance of mating with females outside of his family.

A close up of this beautiful young male.

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Looking eye-to-eye with each other for the first time. Personally I really hope we get to see him again.

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Whether this leopard decides to try set up a territory around Londolozi or if it was just a passing by, it was a truly amazing sighting spending time with a young male whilst he explored this foreign land. He eventually reached our northern boundary where we watched him cross the road and carry on his walk-about, heading deeper into new uncharted territory.
"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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( This post was last modified: 11-07-2016, 03:12 AM by Ngala )

(11-04-2016, 11:10 PM)Ngala Wrote: The Kunyuma male

Name: Kunyuma male
Meaning: Means "shy" in Tsonga language.
Spot pattern: 3:3
Born: 2012, late Nov. - early Dec.
Father: Mvula/Leadwood/Thlebe Rocks male
Mother: Karula female
Littermate: Quarantine/Q-male

The Kunyuma male now is called in Mala Mala Game Reserve as the Senegal Bush male.
"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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( This post was last modified: 11-10-2016, 03:21 AM by Ngala )

Short history about a male from Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate know as Big Boy.

From Weg - Netwerk24, 05 July 2016: It all began with Big Boy by Villiers Steyn.

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It all began with Big Boy.

I’ve always been surrounded by leopards. As a schoolboy on family trips to the Kruger I would search for them in the koppies around Berg-en-Dal. As a student I studied their movement patterns for four years in Botswana’s breathtaking Tuli Block, and today I photograph them on a monthly basis in the iconic Sabi Sand Game Reserve whilst leading photographic safaris for Tusk Photo. 

Believe it or not, they even drink from our birdbath. That’s right! I’ve seen a leopard quench its thirst at our cement birdbath in broad daylight. 

This would not have been possible had my wife Tabby (also a travel writer) and I not moved to the Lowveld in November 2013. Burglar bars, e-tolls and shopping malls became too much for us, so we decided to sell our apartment in Pretoria and move our base to the bush. We chose Hoedspruit, a tiny little town with no traffic lights that’s nestled between the Blyde River Canyon and the Kruger National Park. Hoedspruit is close to many of the wildlife areas we write about, so it was an easy choice. Here, people and wild animals live side by side in estates that are essentially suburbs in the bush. We moved into one called the Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate.  

At 600 ha, the Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate is about the size of a small game farm, and it feels like one too when you leave the tarred residential area to explore the green belt. Here a network of gravel roads link up a series of waterholes and bird hides. It’s home to zebras, giraffes, kudus and most of the Lowveld’s common game species, but not to the Big Five…with the exception of the leopard!




Four months after we had moved in, at 6.30 am on 24 March 2014, we heard the unmistakable rasping sound of a patrolling leopard a stone’s throw from our house. Instead of going for a run as we had planned, we jumped in the car and headed straight in that direction. Two minutes later we (together with some very nervous Natal spurfowl) were staring into the eyes of a colossal male leopard. He flat out ignored and continued his patrol down the road until we lost sight of him fifteen minutes later. 

It was Big Boy, the resident dominant male, named so by residents for obvious reasons. We made it our mission to see Big Boy as often as possible. We’d listen out for the alarm calls of impala and vervet monkeys, as well as leopard calls like the one we heard on that first morning. We saw him at least another ten times before he mysteriously disappeared in June 2015. On three of those occasions he came to us, walking through the garden in broad daylight, stopping off at the birdbath for a drink before carrying on to the neighbours’ plot.

Surely he wasn’t alone, I thought to myself. There had to be other leopards around. Big Boy was seen regularly because he was so relaxed. Through spot pattern analyses we later learned that he was born on Thornybush Game Reserve nearby and that he grew up around safari vehicles - hence his relaxed nature. Other shyer leopards could easily go unseen. And so began my quest to identify all the leopards that call the Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate home.

The only way to do this successfully was to put out camera traps – small camouflaged cameras that take photos or video clips when triggered by a combination of movement and heat. We got the first as a wedding present, two were sponsored (by the local 4x4 store, Lowveld Camp & Gas, and camera trap distributor Camera Traps CC), and funds for the fourth were raised through an online crowd funding campaign and eventually bought at a discount from the local photographic store, MJ’s. We won the last camera trap in a competition with footage of a stand-off between a leopardess and three porcupines. 

All five camera traps are currently out in the field monitoring the movements of the Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate’s leopards and next time I will introduce you to them all…

Left: Our first ever sighting of Big Boy was on Guinea Fowl Road in the green belt. Right: Big Boy wasn’t scared of cars or humans and often walked in between the houses.

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Left: Big Boy looks over his shoulder at a troop of vervet monkeys in Wag-‘n-Bietjie Street. Right: Some of our Big Boy sightings felt like typical Kruger Park sightings.

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"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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Short history about a huge male from Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate know as Houdini.

From Weg - Netwerk24, 28 September 2016: Houdini – the ghost of Hoedspruit by Villiers Steyn.

Searching for shadows

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The leopards of the Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate are like celebrities. I see photos of them each week, but in real life I only catch a glimpse of one or two of them a year. And Houdini, one of two dominant males in the area, is the Paul McCartney of leopards!

He first popped onto my radar a year ago when he was captured in a cage meant for Big Boy, a relaxed leopard that concerned community members wanted to collar in order to monitor his movement outside the safety of the estate. Houdini earned his name by escaping from the cage without a trace, a feat that the camera trap (which recorded his entrapment in the cage in the first place) didn’t even record! For the next three months he remained a mystery.

Nobody knew where he came from, there were no other photos of him and after the great escape, he vanished into thin air. 

A screenshot from a camera trap video that shows Houdini planning his escape.

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Until the 7th of January 2016, that was. At 5.45 pm Colin and Viv Johnson, visitors to the estate, spotted a big and surprisingly relaxed male leopard along Babbler Drive. Fortunately they had more than just a cell phone to take photos of the leopard. Colin sent me five stunning images of an old boy with tattered ears and a dewlap that would put an eland bull to shame. It could only be one leopard – the ghost that I had been searching for months. Spot-pattern analysis confirmed it: Houdini was back in the Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate! 

Photos of Houdini taken by Colin and Viv Johnson along Babbler Drive.

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*This image is copyright of its original author

My excitement was short-lived. For the next five months he eluded all five my camera traps. Maybe he had he left the area completely? Perhaps he was a nomad that gets ‘bumped around’ between the territories of younger, stronger males? It was all guesses until the 11th of June when one of my camera traps captured an unique set of photos at a new location along the southern fence line. There, on the other side of a hole in the fence, was Houdini - mating with a female. He’s no drifter. He’s the big Kahuna in the area! 

Houdini mates with an adult female (believed to be Nsuku) along the southern fence line.

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*This image is copyright of its original author

It was all about finding the right spot for the cameras. Since that night I’ve captured him on camera every single week, walking down a game trail that leads from the hole in the fence to Hamerkop Dam a few hundred metres north, often during the day. 

For a leopard that is not seen that often, Houdini is surprisingly active during the day.


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Houdini on his routine walk down to Hamerkop Dam.

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At least now that I know where to look for him, my chances of meeting my idol face-to-face have increased significantly.

How does he compare with other males?
Every month I lead photographic safaris in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve – arguably the best place in the world to see and photograph leopards. Size-wise, there are two heavyweights in the area: Tingana – a male with a massive dewlap like Houdini, and Anderson, no, wait…Mr. Anderson! – a gigantic male with a huge head believed to be one of the biggest leopards in the Greater Kruger.

Even though I haven’t seen him with my own eyes, Houdini looks to be somewhere in between Tingana and Mr. Anderson, but slightly older (probably 10 years plus) if you look at the wear and tear on his ears. If I had to guess, he probably weighs more than 80 kilograms. 

Mr. Anderson – the biggest leopard in the Sabi Sands – he often looks like you owe him money!

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*This image is copyright of its original author

Tingana is Mr. Anderson’s main rival and reminds me a lot of (a younger) Houdini.

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*This image is copyright of its original author


Other photo about Houdini male from Camera Traps cc:

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*This image is copyright of its original author
"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin." C. Darwin
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