The Passing of a Legend

Posted on June 25, 2009

It has been over a month now that we have not seen sight or sound of Makwela, and as every day has passed, the outcome has looked more and more bleak.

Her daughter, the Hlaba Nkunzi Female, has over the last six months been putting pressure on her and has steadily been pushing her or out of her Territory. This in itself is not an unusual occurrence, we must remember that Makwela is now classified as an old female; we estimate she must be at least 15 years old, if my memory serves me correctly, I first had the privilege of viewing her in 1996 when she had just become independent of her mother.

This pressure over Territory resulted in Makwela being pushed more and more west out of her core Territory and back to a place we didn‘t want her to be, the Western Boundary of the Reserve. Those of you that are familiar with Leopard Hills, and avid readers of our blog, will know why this is of so much concern for us, she has left the Reserve before and is very familiar with the Hills just outside. For the last month we have been keeping an ear close to the ground for any possible sightings of her outside the Reserve, and for us no news was good news, however, the fact we were not picking up her tracks inside, was continuing to cause great concern.

A week ago we received an unconfirmed report that a female Leopard had been shot by a local villager in an adjacent Community surrounding the foothills, outside the sanctuary of the Reserve. The news came as a huge blow to all of us, but as these were unconfirmed reports, we still had hope and have spent the last week trying to get as much information as possible to confirm or dismiss these rumours coming through the “bush telegraph”. I was very reluctant to post any news until we had more information, and I appreciate that so many of you have been concerned and asking after her well being, I therefore apologise to you all for holding back on this, it was done with the best intentions, I wanted to be in a position to deal with facts and not fiction.

However having said that, we are no closer to getting all the facts as to whether these rumours are one hundred percent correct. The information we have from the Local Community is as follows:

• It is pretty certain that a Female Leopard was shot outside the Reserve, it seem she was in a close proximity to one of the Villages when the incident occurred, having come down from the foothills in search of food.

• It seems that this incident took place about a month ago, which is around the time we suspected Makwela had gone missing and had not been seen around her usual haunts.

Due to the incident taking place about a month ago and us only hearing about it last week, has left us with the problem of not being able to categorically confirm whether this Leopard was indeed Makwela or not, there has been no physical evidence produced, nor is there likely to be due to the delayed time period.

Being an eternal optimist, even I am finding it hard to put two and two together and not come up with four, the timing, the location and the circumstance are all pointing to the fact that Makwela is no longer roaming the bush where we have come to know her so well.

Personally I would much rather have not known what happened to her, she was coming to the natural end of her life, these rumours have left me feeling cheated for a reason I cannot explain, I just so wish she could have lived out her last remaining time in and around her old hunting grounds, it seems this was not to be.

We also cannot attach blame to the individual who shot this Leopard, he did not know her, if it was Makwela, as we did, and he would have had an obligation to his village and livestock. Many have and will want to vent frustration in this direction, I ask that we don‘t.

There are so many what if’s” surrounding this incident, but none of them will bring her back. I am left with good memories and some stunning pictures from over the years, she was part of our foundation, literally and figuratively, many will recall she was born in a cave under where our present day kitchen is built today.

We will all deal with this news in our own way, and without trying to sound melodramatic about it, mourn her passing with different tributes. For me and so many of our repeat, passionate guests who got to know her so well; it will be memories of a small female leopard with a big heart, and a distinctive scar on her nose. She was a legend, and the legend will live on in her off spring, especially the Hlaba Nkunzi Female who now roams the Territory Makwela made her own. She is so like her mother in so many ways, she comes from strong genes, and I will always remember her mother every time I see her in and around the Lodge, which she often is.

I will leave you with a few images of the good times we have shared with Makwela, and there have been so many of these, in fact too many to count.

I have asked Marius and the Rangers Team to post a separate article for this blog with some of their images and times they have spent out in the bush with a Legend we came to know and love as Makwela.

Makwela and Daughter Hlaba Nkunzi

0 thoughts on “The Passing of a Legend

  1. The sadness and frustration is beyond belief. You may well be right Duncan but without a price to pay it is always eay to shoot first and ask questions later. Having said that there are two sides to every story and I am possibly selfish in taking Makwela’s side. I know many people will be just as upset and God knows she deserved better. Thank you for the posting because we all were waiting with hope. Happily her legacy lives on but I still can’t help hoping she defies logic once again. Thanks Duncan, I know it is as sad for all at Leopard Hills, if not more so than mere visitors who who had a brief privelege to witness this great lady!

  2. Dunx, again you write leaving us all with goose bumps, well written. She was indead a legenda and a very special part of Leopard Hills. It’s strange to know we will no longer "bump" into her on the pathways around the lodge. I know it was very hard for you to write this article as you have been viewing her for so many years but thank you for letting everyone know what happened.

  3. Goose bumps and tears 🙁 Duncan that is a wonderful tribute to Makwela – I also feel that in some ways it would be better not to have known what happened. She will live on in all the wonderful images that have been taken of her over the years, and in the memory of everyone who has visited Leopard Hills who had the privelege to see her.

  4. Dunx an amazing tribute to an amazing animal . Lou said you were writing this when i spoke to her earlier it must have been so hard .On our visit seeing Makwela and her cubs made my already magical holiday even more special so lots of amazing memories . YOU REALLY MUST WRITE THAT BOOK .love to you all x

  5. So sad! We had the privilege of seeing Makwela last April, lazing on a tree branch. Since she is the first leopard we have seen in the wild, she will be fondly remembered, putting a sad note on the wonderful stay we had at Leopard Hill.
    Thanks for a moving tribute to this wonderful animal and the pictures.

  6. Extremely sad news Dunx. She gave so much to so many. She should go down in the Sabi Sands history books…
    RIP Makwela
    Darren and Candy

  7. Tears are dropping on my desk like a rain behind my window – it sounds trivial but that’s the way I feel – thank you Duncan for your gently way of saying such a sad truth. I was privileged to watch her in the wild, proud and very distinguished Lady. Her picture adorns my hall and no matter what, she will be always in my heart and my mind.

  8. Thank you Duncan we know how didfficult it was to post that information.

    To all of us she will be remembered as the Iconic Embassador who epitomized the South African Bush, and gave rise to the hope and understanding that we are able to share in that world, – how did she manage to make us all feel so completely relaxed and at ease in her company ?

    Many of us have sat long gazing into her eyes, but few have plumbed her depths with the insight that you and the Leopard Hills Team have amassed.

    A fond,sad and emotional farewell, your magnificence presence will be greatly missed.
    Tim & Jan

  9. Oh Duncan – It is a very sad conclusion and I like many of us who have been visitors to you and ‘met’ her on our outings feel sadness. I vividly remember being out with Ryan and we stopped. She walked alongside then she walked under the car – but she popped back out and looked me STRAIGHT in the eye!!! To be looked in the eye by such a beautiful wild creature will stay with me forever – the hair stands on end just thinking of that moment when I could have been dinner! Take care and thank you for keeping us informed – Jayne

  10. Duncan, how incredibly sad an ending to such a precious soul. I wish I’d had the opportunity to meet her, but I can certainly feel sadness and despair at her possible ending. Its a shame that the local community doesnt contact Sabi Sands before they shoot – its always a difficult balance. My very heartfelt sorrow to all of you who were blessed to share time with this magnificent lady. God Bless

  11. How very sad! First Maganjane in Kings Camp and now Makwela in Leopard Hills. My heartfelt condolenses. Since she was past her prime and fighting for existence, perhaps this was more merciful than having her die from a fight or from starvation. Nevertheless, it is still hearbreaking as she was such a gift to LH. :-(.
    Joy, Camarillo CA

  12. Since our last trip to Leopard Hills in May 2008, I have been literally dreading news that Makwela would no longer be "greeting" her guests. I know that last year you all said that she was a terrific age for a leopard – so I suppose that we knew her time had to come sooner or later – but we all hoped it would be later. She was a magnificent animal and we feel privileged to have seen her on our visits to Leopard Hills. I have shed a tear or two reading all the tributes to this fabulous character. She truly will be missed by everyone who had the chance to see her. Kindest regards to all the team.
    Hazel & Brian Mack – UK

  13. Michelle from Dubai
    Duncan a wonderful tribute and update on our Darling Makwela. Having just returned from a wonderful trip to Leopard Hills, many tears were shed on our arrival to find out the fate of Makwela and come to the realisation that on this trip – we were not going to be seeing here. We were privileged to have shared two previous trips to Leopard Hills and witnessed her having just given birth to 2 cubs in 2006 and again were introduced to Hlaba Nkunzi with her last year. The darling daughter who will continue in her Mother’s footsteps I have no doubt. The memories she engraved on so many of your guests and rangers will be everlasting. It is hard to forgive those responsible for her fate, but we will ‘Knight’ her on her rightful throne in the history books of Leopard Hills, her home.

  14. I dont know what to comment..after reading this.

    The way Duncan write’s about the animals shows love, affection, happiness and tears.

  15. Someday, all of you LH crew will walk down a path and sense a presence of a cat. But when you turn to look, see nothing. Just know that Makwela will be watching over her lodge and her kingdom.

    My trip in May was my chance to see her again but alas, was not to be.

  16. I have no words. I hate it that every time there is a confrontation between humans and animals, the animal always loses. She was one of the most beautiful and special leopards ever, and she’ll live on in our hearts. She’ll never know how special she was to so many people, but what she gave us all will never be forgotten. Sending out healing energy to us all. Rest in peace, beautiful girl.

  17. Duncan and staff: as heavy as our hearts are to hear of the loss of such a beautiful anmial, she was a part of your lives. We can’t imagine how you feel, but your plans for a tribute are perfect. We were so hoping to see her again in August! Alas, but at least we had the privilege of watching her over the years.
    With tears in my eyes and a picture of Makwela on my desk…..Anne Budill,
    Camp Run-a-Muck

  18. Thanks Dunx, sad story yet well written. Even though I live in community adjecent to Sabi Game Reserve and maybe one day I might have to protect my family from a wild animal I certainly feel anger, sadness and despair at her death, somehow I feel it could have been avoided ,anyway as you said the "the what if" won’t bring her back… She was a gorgeous leopard who was so welcoming, who same how manage to make us all feel so completely relaxed and at ease in while viewing her. I recall one of my first sightings her around the begin of 1997 when she tried to still a blanket that the guest were sitting on.
    The sun have set on the African queen but her soul and good memories of her will remain with us forever.

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