(If you want a happy story, perhaps skip this post)
Leopards are territorial animals. Females will cat fight with other females and males will fight with other males. No one wants to share resources, space or even the air they breath, unless there is some sort of blood relation that will somehow force them into being a bit more civil.
At a time in my life there were really only 2 male leopards I would concern myself with: Xovonekela (sho-vo-nee-ke-la if you want to attempt pronounce it) – known to friends as Xovo, and Mandleve (meaning ears).
Xovo had been the dominant male in the East for quite a while, but in male leopard fashion, he didn’t seem too happy with the intrusion of the upcoming threat that Mandleve was starting to pose so he had started spending more time venturing into the west to ensure all threats to his domain were kept at bay. I secretly always rooted for Mandleve to take over as the new “upcoming” character in the endless soap opera that unfolds in the bush. My relationship with Xovo was never too transcendental, he was a leopard, he was there and he was fine to see, but I never felt “it” for him. We just didn’t click.
Legend has it though that Xovo had quite a tragic and unlikely history for a leopard. He was born and raised in the North and when his mother died, and in act that defies logical leopard behavior (if there could ever be such thing with them), he was then raised by his grandmother. Years later the left the North as peasant and managed to establish himself as the king in the South. You would think that someone who was given a second chance by life would have been a more merciful being. Unfortunately that was not the case. This story, dear reader, is sadly a story one without a happy ending.
Although Scotia and Ndzilo will always have a bug chunk of my heart, Outcrop and her two cubs took most of it. The first time we met, I bumped into them on my favorite road. We had never met before and even while I was sure she could hear my heart beating out of my chest, she didn’t stop her movements and took me along for the ride. Months went by and I didn’t see her again. I kept going back to where we had met in hopes of finding her again. I didn’t have such luck until one afternoon Enock found them again. After that day, the seal was broken and I was able to spend increasingly more time with her and her two fluff balls. In order to see her, I always went West. All good things always happened to me in the West.
On an Easter Sunday, Xovo was found close to the lodge in the far South. My morning had been pretty boring (you can only speak about trees and birds so many times before people start falling asleep), so I figured going to see a leopard would probably give everyone that adrenaline rush needed before the gorging on chocolate eggs began.
“Stations, Xovo’s got a bamba. A manpinpan ingwe bamba”.
My brain works in too many languages at the same time. So when I heard this, first thing I did was translate it into English: “Xovo’s got a kill. A young leopard kill”
Still. My brain wasn’t processing this information.
I had to then translating into Spanish: “Xovo cazó algo. Xovo cazó a un cachorro de leopardo”.
Nono. It can’t be. I must have heard something wrong. Too many languages in my head. Earlier that week, Scotia’s mother – the Wilson’s Pan female – had been in the area with her 2 cubs (one male, one female). I assumed if this was the case that Xovo had probably gotten hold of the male cub. When I got there, sadly, the crime scene was even worst that what I had imagined.
Not only did he kill the female cub but he dragged her, hoisted her onto a tree but then proceeded to eat some of her. Cannibalism amongst leopard isn’t common. It’s not an everyday thing. The whole situation was unexpected, unheard of and unwanted. There are troubled souls out there, no matter what species they belong to. The only logical explanation was that her father had been someone else, and Xovo’s power wouldn’t waiver for anyone so she had to be taken out.
I lost my appetite for the Easter breakfast.
I took a photo of the cub, we would have to try and identify it, only to prove Landon that he was wrong. That couldn’t have been one of Outcrop’s cubs as he thought, they didn’t really dwell in that area. The following day mother and sister came looking for the dead sibling. They climbed the tree, tried to get her to follow. The mother’s kink in the detail confirmed what I didn’t want to admit: Outcrop’s cub had been caught. For two days mother and sister stayed around the area of the carcass, constantly calling, not going hunting, not venturing far. They say animals aren’t capable of grieving, that they aren’t capable of such emotions. I know Outcrop did as I mourned the loss of her cub with her.
On the third day, they had left and took the elusive privacy that is characteristic of leopards. They weren’t seen again for some time and when eventually they were found again, they seemed to stick to the North where more survival opportunities appeared to be.
Her surviving cub did make it into adulthood and later on was known as the Kigelia female and Xovo.. well he eventually quietly disappeared.