Back in November, guides at Lion Sands Game Reserve located a leopard in a tree who had severe injuries to his face and chest.
River Rock male with severe injuries to his face and chest after a fight. Photo: Darryn Murray
Based on the size and location of the leopard, we assumed this to be the dominant male in the area, Xovonekela. However, the following day we were very surprised to see that he was actually the River Rock male, a dominant male in the territory across the river from where he was found.
River Rock male photographed before the fight. Image: Charlotte Arthun
The Sabie River forms a natural barrier between two pieces of land, where the Xovonekela male rules the boundary north of the river, and River Rock rules the south. There have been few occasions where the two leopards have been seen on each other’s territories.
Male leopards are highly territorial and intolerant of other males. They lay claim to their area by frequent patrols, scent marking along the way. A leopard can cover several kilometres on patrol at night. It isn’t uncommon to find a leopard on one side of the reserve on an afternoon safari, and then in a completely different place the next morning.
Here you can se full extent of the River Rock male’s painful injuries. Image: Gerhard Pieters
Like most animals, leopards will avoid fighting to prevent injury to themselves. Even when leopards do encounter another leopard, growling can be enough to send the message, but as a last resort, they will fight viciously to defend their territory. An old dominant male usually has several battle scars on his face and body as proof of these battles.
We can’t say with certainty what caused the injuries to the River Rock, but we suspect that they were the result of a confrontation with another male leopard.
One theory is that the River Rock male fought with the Wooden Bridge male, another dominant male at Lion Sands, who he has been seen fighting before, and retreated across the river to recover from his wounds.
Or perhaps, River Rock crossed the river and had a confrontation with the Xovonekla male and was brutally defeated, however, the Xovonekla male had no signs of injuries.
Three months after the fight and he is recovering well, and has little scaring on his face. Image: Darryn Murray
A few days later, River Rock reappeared in his territory. Now, three months later, his wounds are healing and he is recovering quite well. Needless to say we haven’t seen him across the river since then.
Words by: Charlotte Arthun
Other images: Darryn Murray, Gerhard Pieters, Charlotte Arthun