The unexpected element of safari is always what keeps us coming back for more.
At Lion Sands, we don’t have fences between our reserve and the Kruger National Park, which means that animals can move freely between the areas. The result is that on any game drive, we can encounter something entirely new.
The big cats at Lion Sands are territorial and thus over months and years, we become familiar with their identity (individual leopards and prides of lions). For example, when we receive word of a leopard in a particular part of the reserve and know its sex, even without seeing it, we have a good chance of knowing which leopard it is.
But every once in a while, we are treated to a sighting of an unknown cat or group of cats. It’s always exciting, and those of us who are interested in the identities will ask around neighbouring properties to try and figure out who it is.
In January, an excited Field Guide Kelly Oldaker came back from a morning game drive having snapped a photo of a beautiful leopard she didn’t recognise. She wrote about him in a blog: “What a stunning animal – even I was in awe. His coat shimmering in the sunlight and his pink nose indicating that he isn’t totally mature yet.”
He wasn’t seen again, until a few months later, when another guide, Ruvan Grobler, returned from a drive and also showed us a photo of an unknown male leopard. We confirmed it was the same one Kelly had seen months earlier. He continued to make sporadic appearances over the next several months, and in the last month, to my delight, we’ve had more consistent sightings of him. He is incredibly good-looking, and photogenic. He also seems to be an adept hunter, because many of the times we see him, he is on a kill.
Despite reaching out to our networks and extensive research, we still don’t know where he comes from or when he was born. Based on his relaxed behaviour around vehicles, we first speculated that he was from somewhere in the Sabi Sand, where leopards are typically more habituated than those from other areas. Then, this week, as luck would have it, Field Guide Neil Jennings was reading the recent edition of Kruger Magazine, and saw a familiar-looking leopard photographed from within the park. Based on his spot patterns, we confirmed it was the same leopard!
We now suspect that he is actually from Kruger, which also makes sense of why we can’t get an ID on him. I suppose his identity doesn’t really matter – any and every leopard is a treat to see. We can’t predict whether he will stay or go. Based on his condition and size, we can roughly estimate he is between three and five years old – not yet in his prime for a territory takeover. We do already have a very dominant and established male leopard here, but I’m crossing fingers this newcomer can find a place to stay at Lion Sands. We would love to have him!
Words and photos by: Charlotte Arthun