Tucked away on an inaccessible koppie (hill), a set of two little leopard cubs were born. After many weeks caring for and protecting the cubs, the Boulders female leopard brought her youngsters down the koppie and finally allowed us to catch a glimpse.
After his independence, the young male started to venture into water sources hoping to catch a seemingly easy meal. For some reason he took a fascination to a variety of ducks. I watched as he would diligently wade through the water and even try to swim after these highly specialized water fowl without success. Often times I would see the disappointment written across his face as he simply could not accept this defeat. Witnessing this bizarre behaviour led to him receiving his name, Hlambela. Hlambela means “the one who swims”.
A great deal of my 2020 lockdown period was spent watching Hlambela grow up. One of his success factors was that he remained within the heart of his father’s territory. This area allowed Hlambela to move freely between major water sources and perfect his hunting skills in deep drainage lines. Together with his sister, Tisela, he took a fond interest in mongoose. These easy meals helped fill his belly until he took on larger prey species.
As time moved on, Hlambela developed from a juvenile into an adolescent. With a spike in testosterone, he soon realised that he was no longer a boy. One of the coolest moments was hearing Hlambela rasp for the first time. He finally had his own signature. Without wasting time, he realised that scent marking would be a quick way to carve out his own space. This posed one potential problem. He was still moving around the central parts of Ravenscourt’s territory. He started moving further towards the edges of Ravenscourt’s stronghold, but still has not had any major clashes with his father.
Hlambela is easy to identify amongst the leopards that I come across. He is currently the only male in the area to sport a 2:2 spot pattern. He has also recently developed a scar across his nose.
Some of my favourite moments spent with this male were inside the grounds of my lodge. One evening Hlambela was found snoozing next to the pathway of one of the rooms. I recall walking some of my guests from a boma dinner to view him casually resting along the pathway. He displayed no sign of agitation and simply watched us, watching him in pure awe. Without overstaying our welcome we headed back, speechless.