Over the past few weeks, I have been collating the thousands of leopard images that I have taken in the Timbavati over the past decade. My primary aim was to develop a comprehensive collection of individual leopard identikits from the past and present which could then assist our guides in keeping track of who is who at Tanda Tula Safari Camp.

One important aspect of keeping track of leopards and their lineages over time is the sometimes contentious issue of naming leopards - contentious because of the risk that naming animals can humanise or “tame” these wild animals. As long as you aren’t naming the leopard Bertha or Nick, and giving them human traits, I personally find the process of giving individual leopards a name for identification purposes an extremely useful tool. It assists hugely when it comes to learning about leopards’ movements and behaviours, and keeping track of how young leopards disperse through the open-system that is the Greater Kruger. As a result of some new leopards having moved into the area, as well as the naming of some newly independent leopards, I thought that it might be pertinent at this point to give them an official introduction, share some of their history and hypothesise about what 2019 might hold in store for them. 
The first introduction goes to a completely new face in the area; a young male leopard known as Xidulu. We first came across this male one afternoon late last year when he was found with not one, but two impala kills hoisted up a knobthorn tree in our eastern section. As the months past, it became evident that he wasn’t simply moving through, but instead has provided a constant presence through the summer. After one particular sighting of him close to Tanda Tula, I posted an image on social media asking if anyone knew who this leopard was, and where he may have come from. I asked the question because despite having not been born or growing up within the Timbavati (to the best of my knowledge), he was completely at ease with the vehicles, and this could only happen if he grew up in the presence of them. Eventually, an answer came. Not only did this leopard have a name: Xidulu which means a termite mound in Tsonga, because of this leopard’s love of sleeping on such mounds, but he had a history. Quite incredibly, he was born in December 2015 on a private concession within the Greater Kruger some 50km away from where we are seeing him today. Although this is not an unusual distance for a young male leopard to travel once ousted from his natal range by the dominant male, it just goes to show the importance of being part of a larger, unfenced system is. Time will tell if Xidulu ends up staying in the area, there are already quite a few larger male leopards in the area that would not be overjoyed to see him hanging around the outskirts of their territories. If Xidulu can avoid their attention and eek out a living for the next year or so, he may well be in position to make a challenge against one of the other male leopards in an attempt to proclaim his own piece of territory. Chances are good that he will feel the pressure and move on even further afield, but until then, we will hopefully continue to enjoy his presence for a while longer.
Another leopard that is facing a similar challenge is Marula’s son, a leopard known as Ndzuti which means shadow, a hint at his secretive nature and preference for remaining out of sight. It was when compiling the identikits that I suddenly realised that a “new” and reasonably relaxed male leopard that we were seeing in the far west towards the end of 2018 was not new at all. It was merely Ndzuti exploring his surrounding areas, no doubt under pressure from the same dominant males that pose a threat to Xidulu. The best thing about this discovery was seeing how much more relaxed Ndzuti has become over the past year. It also made me relook at other “Ndzuti” sightings only to realise that these were actually of yet another young male leopard around Tanda Tula Safari Camp! 


The last set of introductions are not so much new introductions as they are part of an official naming ceremony. Firstly, after a great effort, both of Thumbela female’s last litter safely made it to adulthood and full independence. The rather shy son has been called Tingana male (Tingana means shy) for his rather secretive nature. Although he will be tolerated in his father’s (Madzinyo male) territory for another year or so, in time, he will face the same pressures as our other two young males, and we may well be getting sent photos of him from lodges many kilometres away asking if we know who he is!


A leopard that is likely to follow a very similar course over the coming year is Nyeleti’s 15 month old daughter N’weti, named after the moon, her mother’s name means star. With only a couple of months left in her mother’s company she will also soon be taking her first steps towards independence, and as with Nkaya, we are hoping that she too will find a territory within our concession over the coming years. 

The next year or two will definitely be an exciting time in the life of the leopards of the central Timbavati, and with both Marula and Nthombi also doing a fine job in raising their daughters, we may well be needing to do another blog of this sort soon! 
Until then, be sure to check out our weekly updates and social media feeds to see what the leopards are getting up to!



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