The end of a life before it really even started

Posted on January 21, 2011

Waking this morning to ominous black clouds and heavy rain, little did we know this was not as dark as it was going to get as the day progressed.

On his way back from the airstrip Dave encountered the Hlaba Nkunzi Female Leopard running rapidly north past Tawny Eagle Pan, followed closely by the Xinzele male Leopard hot on her heals. She managed to get away and Dave followed the Male as he turned back to from where he came, towards the Mabrak River that runs in front of the Lodge. As he went down into the river bed which is flowing after all the heavy rain we have had, he continued to scent mark vigorously, wading across the river to the Southern Bank. It was at this stage that Dave and Gary notices a young dead Leopard lying in the branches of a tree overhanging the river bed. The clarity of the situation dawned that he had surprised and killed one of Hlaba Nkuzi’s youngsters while marking his new territory, needless to say we are greatly saddened by this turn of events, ironically it almost a year to the day that she carried her cubs into the Lodge in the early of the morning during a tremendous thunder storm, they were no more than three days old.

No doubt there will be criticism to showing human emotion over an incident that is a natural occurrence, you can‘t blame the male, he was just doing what comes naturally to him. However we live, sleep and breathe this daily, and if anyone wishes to criticize us for being “human” then quite frankly go ahead.

I have added the picture below as a blog should be about the whole story, but I appreciate that not all will want to view it, therefore do not scroll down further if that is the case.

We will keep you posted on the situation with Hlaba Nkunzi and the remaining youngster as soon as we know what is happening.

Regards for now from a very sad Leopard Hills Team.

0 thoughts on “The end of a life before it really even started

  1. i am Very sad with what happened to the cub. i enjoyed watching that leopard roam around camp over the past year.RIP young Cub.

  2. Oh, Duncan and the LH team, that is so sad, even if it is nature. I fondly remember tracking these cats with Ronald and Dave, and seeing the cubs when they were small. Thank you for sharing your grief. <<hugs>>

  3. She has been such a regular visitor over the last year, so sad that her life came to an end so soon, I hope and pray that the remaining cub survives and continues to walk the Leopard Hills pathways.

  4. Duncan, thanks for letting us know so quickly. I am terribly saddened for Hlaba Nkunzi and for all of the people who have followed this family’s story. You hearts must be very heavy right now and we pray that her other cub will survive the invasion on Xinzele. I wish Thekwane would come and chase him away! Hugs to you all x x

  5. It’s only a couple of weeks ago that we were watching the cubs relax in the tree opposite the lodge and even then we were concerned for their safety. Really sad that she got so close but didn’t make it to adulthood, we hope Hlaba Nkunzi and the other cub are now far from danger. It may be the way of the bush but emotions simply mean we care!

  6. Duncan, my thoughts over the last few hours have been consumed by this news since I became aware of it.

    It is nature indeed, but as you say, a part of your daily life. Just like we may love our domestic cats and dogs, but simply respect those of others, people may be in awe of your Leopards when seeing them briefly, but for all of you up there, they mean so much more. It is familiarity that triggers our human ability to become emotionally attached to a person, an object or a scene, and hence the fact these felines are so much closer to all of you than most will understand.

    As you say, it may be the way of the wild, but as much as some of us will challenge what I say next, we are simply not wild. We are human, and have a deeper level of emotion.

    I am thinking of all you guys, especially the little ones who may not have had to deal with such a loss before, and as much as this is such a sad day, for myself, it offers me an even greater appreciation for the fact that I was so privileged to see both of Hlaba Nkunzi’s cubs last year.

    In respect for the three KZN rangers on ?The Hill? I will sign off in Zulu.

    "Hamba Kahle Izinyane"
    (Go well little Leopard)



  7. Drew, wow, you always WOW me with your writing and heartfelt feeling on life, be it human or in this case nature. I would dearly love to spend time with you and get to know you better. You and Dunx needs to get together, it’s time for a book with passion, emotion and just the real take on life. I salute you for staying with this family and for being such an important part of Leopard Hills. Please visit anytime, you belong in the bush.

  8. As naturalists and guides we try to interpret and learn from what we see…

    I have been trying to process what unfolded before me yesterday, we all know this is instinctive leopard behaviour and was always a possibility! I can fully justify the Xinzele male leopard?s actions from what I understand of their behaviour, so why do we resent him right now? Thanks Andrew for summing it up in one word ?familiarity?.

    Just a month ago he first appeared at Leopard Hills, searching for a new territory (as he should, he is a strong young male), we all feared what he was capable of. After some initial panic for the safety of the cubs the storm blew over and he went back east, we breathed a sigh of relief! Our loyalty totally with the cubs we have watched grow for the last year.

    We carried on…tracking and absorbing ourselves in the everyday lives of these 2 cubs and their remarkable first time mother…Just 2 days ago we found her and the cubs on a kill as we had done many times before.

    As a human being I can?t help it and I anthropomorphise. I feel a huge sense of loss for Hlaba Nkunzi, she has worked so hard for a whole year and has given everything of herself to these cubs! She has had the protection of their father, Tegwan male for most of this time, we even saw all four of them together on a handful of occasions.

    It is this familiarity that leads to such strong emotions attached to wild leopards, for me it was being so involved in the actual event that touched me to the core…

    The visual of Hlaba Nkunzi running past, panic in her eyes, constantly looking back toward the rampant male and her lost cub will stay with me forever.

  9. Dave you have put it across in a very descriptive way and I think this is the essence of what has touched us all by this turn of events.

    Having had the privileged to work in the bush over the last 23 years, trust me it doesn’t get any easier, and this is going to the first of many "heartaches". Many people do not understand the bond we form with wild animals over the countless hours we view them in the wild, and not having this special association would surely be the undoing of many "Guides" who truly miss the fundamental reasons why we do this job day in and day out. It is a calling that few of the minions fully understand, to show heart is not a weakness, it is a strength, a strength that will save Wildlife and Conservation in the long term.

    I am truly honored to have you, Drew and the likes on our side. We may lose a few battles along the way, but we will surely win the war in the end, it comes from the heart.

  10. to show heart is not a weakness, it is a strength, a strength that will save Wildlife and Conservation in the long term.

    Hi Duncan,

    Only discovered this blog today.

    Your words above re. heart and emotion are so insightful and motivational – well said.

    Greetings to you and Louise from Abby and myself in Bathurst Eastern Cape.

    Kind regards

    Nigel & Abby Pearson ( ex Nelspruit)

  11. There is nothing more that I can say, that has not already been posted. With aching heart, I must repeat Andrews fairwell…."Hamba Kahle Izinyane"
    :-(. Joy, Camarillo, CA

  12. Hi Guys,

    We all share your grief with great sadness. Every visitor to your wonderful lodge have beautiful memories of those cubs. Chasing my dad around in his pajamas at Ululapa, and suprising my mom while she was having a bath are just some of them. One can’t help to get attached to these wonderful animals in some way or another.

  13. Some great news to start off this Monday morning…

    Hlaba Nkunzi and her remaining cub were found quite close to the lodge this morning. We were worried she might move away for a while, seems the Xinzele male has moved off for now.

    We will keep you posted…

  14. Hi Duncan,

    I have been out of the loop with regards to the blogs as they weren’t coming through!!

    I was very sad to hear about Hlaba Nkunzi’s cub – she was doing so well! Makes me think about Makwela…

    Keep well
    Drew (Abrahamson)

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