Some of the first images that may come to mind when one thinks of leopards are elusive, shy, and secretive characters. As much as this may be their very nature, there are some areas where leopards have become accustomed to game viewing vehicles spending time around them.
One of the first mature and relaxed male leopards that I have come across is a male called Ravenscourt. He was born in February 2012 and was sired by Kashane (father) and Ravenscourt female (mother). The first time I got to spend time with this gorgeous boy he was sitting casually at a water hole. Ravenscourt was entering his prime at around six years old. I clearly recall noticing how round his cheeks were, as if he had two tennis balls stuck in there.
His behaviour was completely contrary to the general characteristics of a leopard. He sat confidently, completely unperturbed with our presence. He tolerated us and would hardly even look my way.
Ravenscourt was quickly securing the status of dominant male in the area when we first met. He had three major contenders to deal with namely Dayone, Nyelethi and Torchwood. He managed to overcome these challengers and set clearly defined boundaries for himself. Although he is missing his top left canine tooth, his tall and buff physique puts him at the top of the bushveld fight club.
The territory that Ravenscourt has acquired over the last couple of years has expanded a great deal. He pushes from the Sand River all the way down to the southern boundary of the reserve. This covers an area of approximately 75km2. With this amount of ground to cover, Ravenscourt constantly needs to be on the move. This can make tracking this male leopard a frustrating process. I have witnessed the speed at which he walks and keeping up with him on foot can be exhausting. Loosing track of him for only a brief moment can result in starting the search almost from scratch. One thing I always hope for is a territorial rasp. This is a sure way to get a direction indicator and to get a sense of how far away he is of you.
Being the dominant male leopard certainly has its advantages. Ravenscourt’s territory overlaps various female leopard territories namely Basile, Thlangisa, Khokovela, Kelly Dam and Boulders. As he moves through different sections of his territory, he is bound to bump into some of these females. I have been extremely fortunate to spend time witnessing these leopards perform their mating rituals. As mating can take up to five days, sometimes the females have to keep up with him as he insists on patrolling his vast territory. He has however only sired two successful leopards, Hlambela male and Tisela female.
One of the highlights that I have witnessed with this male was an unexpected yet successful hunt. I found Ravenscourt moving on and off a dusty road while patrolling and marking his territory. He eventually veered off into the bush and I managed to follow him through. All of a sudden he just darted into a thicket. I switched off my vehicle and heard a scuffle happening inside the bushes. A second later Ravenscourt emerged carrying a duiker in his mouth. I could not believe my luck! Witnessing a sighting like this does not happen often. He made sure the coast was clear and then sat down close to where I was stationed and fed on his meal.
With his experience gained over the last few years, he has become a highly successful hunter. I have spent a considerable time with him feeding on impala and warthogs dragged up a tree. Being the size that he is, he will often feed on the ground. I have seen him confidently stand his ground to a hyena until the scavenger moved off.
From time to time I get to face Ravenscourt head on, whether that is in a vehicle or on foot. He has a certain look which he gives that makes you realise how insignificant you are. Yet there is still something so magical about locking eyes with these magnificent animals.
All in all spending time with this male is an absolute pleasure. He will usually provide you with ample time to take in his beauty and watch how he goes about his daily business. He is also a very photogenic leopard and capturing some memorable images of him seems like a piece of cake.