I normally relish the opportunity to share the news of our animals and our world with you, but this is one entry that I wish I didn’t have to post…and so it is, that with great sadness that I have to inform you all of the untimely, and extremely unfortunate death of our one of our most treasured leopard – the legendary Mangadjane.
Monday morning started off like any other day, but soon turned into one of the bluest Mondays I have ever had to face. One of the guides had found fresh tracks for Mangadjane, and decided to have a quick look. While tracking, the tracks were lost crossing hard and rocky terrain towards a drainage line. The guide checked the drainage line and found no tracks crossing it and though that the leopard must still be close by. He went back to where he had last seen the tracks and spotted an area of flattened grass about 25m ahead – a possible indicator to where an animal had been sleeping. The guide walked no more than 7m from the road when Mangadjane came charging in at him from 11m away! The guide shouted at the animal – which from past experience was normally sufficient to break off a charge. Today was different. The leopard kept coming. The guide fired a warning shot into the ground; surely that would get the leopard to stop and run in the opposite direct. It didn’t. At less than 2.5m, the guide was out of options – it was his life or the leopards - and in a making that split second decision, he took the final lethal shot which, fortunately for his sake, stopped the leopard…the guides life was saved.
Now it might be easy to point fingers and ask many questions about why a lethal shot was needed; but when one of the most experienced and qualified guides (15 years of guiding in the Timbavati) - who has walked into similar situations countless times before – feels that he has no option to protect his own life other than to take the life of an animal he loved so dearly, you know that is was necessary. This incident has served to remind us that the animals that we see here every single day, and the same animals that seem to pay absolutely no attention to us and our vehicles, are still 100 percent wild animals, and that there is no room for complacency, no matter how well we may think we know our animals.
The sad reality of the situation is that it was either the guides life or the leopards…had the guide not fired a shot, we might have been reporting on the loss of dear friend, as well the same possible outcome for Mangadjane, but that is not for me to speculate, we are just glad that the guide came away physically unhurt, but the emotional shock will not be easy to overcome.
Now for any of our past guests that have been privileged enough to see Mangadjane (or Batman, as many of you may remember him as!), you will know how easy it was for guides and guests to become so attached to him. His relaxed demeanor around the vehicles ensured up-close and personal encounters of one impressively sized male leopard. He went about his business as if we were not even there, I never once had him show any aggression towards the vehicle, even when he was munching on an impala a few meters above our heads! In fact, I think the impala’s might be the only ones happy to hear this news, as Mangadjane definitely did his part in keeping the impala population in check (my favourite was when he managed to kill three impalas in one go)! Of course all the guides across the Timbavati were deeply saddened to hear this, and I am sure that, like me, all the ‘rugged and tough rangers’ quietly shed a tear or two when no-one was looking. It is a strange thing; he was an animal, a wild animal, but upon hearing the news, it was like hearing of the passing of a friend. And after more than seven years of ruling the northern Timbavati, that is what Rupert aka Batman aka Mangadjane (in all his various spellings!) had become to the guides – a friend, and one that will be sorely missed…
While the sadness may reign down over Timbavati at the moment, we can not help but smile when we think of all the magical sightings we have had of him over the last few years. Magical tales of a great leopard, great not just by Timbavati standards, but Mangadjane would no doubt have been a star in any reserve in any country – he was just that sort of leopard. He was the ultimate leopard, from killing fully grown female kudu’s weighing more than twice as much as he did to stories of him killing fully grown hyenas and then hoisting them into trees to feed on them – then more tenderly making a meal of a group of catfish in a drying pool, and too taking them into the trees! He always had a go at the hyenas that pestered him when he was on his kills, as had many meetings with the Sohebele lion pride that shared his land. These ultimate enemies knew each other well and shared many encounters (some almost ending Mangadjane’s life even earlier) – my most memorable being when the pride of eight lions kept Mangadjane biding his time on the whimsical branches of a marula tree on an extremely warm autumns day…all day long! He had no shade, and little room to move, but he did have something the lions wanted – an impala kill. The lions were patient, but Mangadjane was even more so…daylight came and went, and Mangadjane was still sitting tight, not even attempting an escape – not even when an intruding male leopard came and joined him in the tree, despite all eight lions still sitting underneath them. In the morning all characters were gone, and Mangadjane – possibly stiff-legged – wasn’t seen in a tree for sometime after that!
My favourite attribute about Mangadjane was his patience – and it always amazed me to see him sitting and waiting at the entrance of a warthog burrow, sometimes for almost 48 hours at a time , just knowing that eventually the warthog would have to come out, and if it did, he was ready…well, most times anyway!!!
We could go on and on about our dearly departed friend (and if you have any great stories or memories of him, please feel free at leave a comment on the blog!), but we have to move on. He was a legend, he was one-of-a-kind, and he contributed towards making the Timbavati the special place it is. And although he is gone, he has left more than a legacy – he has populated the reserve with several offspring, the latest being Nkateko, and together with our other fantastic leopards, they will continue to provide the guests and guides with countless wonderful memories and photographic opportunities. Mangadjane has also left a big gap, and as is the way of the bush telegraph, ‘news’ will soon spread that there is a vacant territory about, and there will be new males moving in to try and stake a claim, the same way Mangadjane moved into the area all those years ago. Time will tell which leopard moves in to take over – it might be a complete outsider, it could be one of Mangadjane’s previous offspring like Rockfig Young Male, or maybe the Argyle male will continue to push further south – at this stage it is a bit soon to tell, but Mangadjane’s departure will certainly lead to some interesting developments in the world of the leopards of the Timbavati, until our new golden boy makes this his home…
So that is it, the story that has rocked our little worlds, but we have to look forward to what the future holds – and be sure that you will be able to read about any new developments here on the Motswari Blog.
My first ever photo of Mangadjane...