Finding Thamba

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By now, in our special safari adventure with Wandering Thru, with Tristan Dicks private guiding, we were nearing the end of our journey as we arrived at the last property and lodge on our itinerary, Dulini River Lodge. We had already experienced some wonderful dramatic moments in the African bushveld, and had successfully tracked, searched for, and found the luminous Birmingham young white lioness, and charismatic male leopard, Hosana, and assorted other leopards and lions that were on our overall Wish List!

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We arrived at Dulini on a glaringly hot winter afternoon, and immediately felt the soothing coolness of the beautiful riverfront lodge and large airy rooms.  After a short rest break and some tea, we set off with our guide and tracker, on our search to find Thamba, a young dominant male leopard who grew up in the northern Sabi Sand and was seen on the WildEarth daily streamed safaris regularly.  Thamba is the son of Thandi and Tingana, the territorial leopards in the northern area (at that time), and is also the half-brother and half-nephew of Hosana.  We quickly discovered tracks for Thamba but we also found nearby tracks for a female leopard and cub, presumably the Boulders female and her very young cub (whose general territory we were in). Thamba’s tracks close to Boulders was definitely a bit concerning for the young cub, as male leopards are known to be the killers of cubs that are not their own progeny.  This form of feline infanticide is a very normal process in natural ecosystems, but can be heartrending to witness as humans, and obviously sad for the leopardesses who lose cubs to intruding males.

As we bumbled about that late afternoon, we got a bit waylaid by other interesting sightings, including a huge elephant carcass in a drainage line that had been fed upon by many animals, and currently had hyenas and vultures vying for squatting rights on the remains of the gigantic meal.  This carcass was a magnet for predators feeding, and for scavengers of all shapes and sizes.

Finally, we concluded our afternoon down in the river bed watching 2 small crocs feed off of a drowned impala in a beautiful little pool. Ravenscourt had previously been seen at the river eyeing up the floating impala carcass, but had already melted away into the dark. We then returned to the lodge for dinner on a very warm evening.

Early the next morning, we started out very hopeful to finally see Thamba!  But first, we discovered the small Tsalala pride (2 females, a mother and her juvenile daughter) moving about and hunting, and then had a fantastic sighting of them crossing the river on the causeway in beautiful early light! Feeling very cheerful in the moment, we were then radioed to a much different scene… there was some kind of altercation and loud leopard vocalizations near the same elephant carcass of the afternoon before.  Which leopards, and why were they fighting and growling?

We found out quite soon what was going on… and it changed the mood and tone of our morning immediately.  We pulled into a very thick, steep drainage line to find Ravenscourt (male leopard dominant in that area) at the base of a large tree, with a macabre, very sad visual of a small, very dead, partially eaten leopard cub carcass dangling from a large branch of the tree.  Ravenscourt was growling and agitated, Boulders was seen nearby by other vehicles, and Thamba was also spotted in the immediate vicinity.  We believe sometime over the night, that Thamba tracked and discovered Boulders and her young cub, either on the ellie carcass, or possibly feeding on a different meal, and killed the cub in a classic case of infanticide.  Ravenscourt was the presumed father of the little baby cat, and Thamba was considered an intruding male force, as he has been slowly but surely increasing his territorial range and had already had some altercations with Ravenscourt.  Boulders and Thamba had been in a very aggressive interaction, from the audio that had been heard, and Ravenscourt must have heard the loud commotion and come into the scene.

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Ravenscourt then climbed the tree quickly and pulled the cub carcass out of the tree and dropped to the ground below.  We followed him as he dragged the carcass a long way back towards the heart of his territorial area near the river, with Boulders trailing him in a very agitated upset way.  He then fed upon the small remains of the cub in the dense grass, as a carcass of any kind is simply food for a big leopard.  Sad as it is, it is a very good and easy energy source for a cat, and there is no sympathy or emotion at that point in the altogether-over life of a deceased small cub, even if it happens to originally be his own offspring.

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After watching this sad and gruesome scene unfold, it was time to return to the area of the original violent encounter and to find Thamba.

Thamba was lying in the road when we found him, resting in the shade and salivating heavily.  A large male leopard that is salivating is one that has had a very aggressive encounter with another leopard.  The salivation is a sure sign of extreme agitation and overall highly emotional state of mind.  He was calm enough at our sighting, but no doubt had been the cause of the violence, and the cause of the cub’s death.  He was looking bulky and brawny, and there were some reddish blood stains around his beautiful lustrous neck fur, and he was breathtakingly gorgeous, but more than a bit menacing in his demeanor.  Thamba’s overall aura was one of Serious Business, of the male leopard variety, and there was no doubt at all that he meant it.  He is a young male, around 5 years of age, but he portrays every inch the ascendant dominant male leopard message, and hopefully will be an extremely successful cat during the next few years of his reign in the western Sabi Sands!

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After leaving Thamba when he disappeared into the shady bush, we continued our morning drive, in a reflective mood, and had some terrific discussions about leopard biology and ecology and psychology.  These moments and sightings on a safari are very sobering, but also fascinating, and if you can look beyond the sadness and emotion, you are able to learn so much about animal behavior, and appreciate how everything is interconnected and happens for very natural rational biological reasons.

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After 2 more wonderful, cheerful days of safari, we decided on our very last morning’s drive to try to find Thamba again, and to end our 16 day trip with him!  Fortunately, the bush was accommodating, and we discovered him patrolling his territorial boundary along the road.  We followed him on and off-road, as he scent-marked and strolled for awhile, and finally into the very thick bush, eventually losing him as we bundu-bashed along the way.

We eventually lost him in the in the long grass but not before a moment of charming silliness, when he decided to scent-mark and/or floss his big strong teeth on  a tiny, insignificant twig, looking positively blissful as he did so!

Thamba was again looking magnificent and very confident, and I hope that he continues his long long life as a dominant male leopard, and that someday, I get to see him again!

 

Wandering Thru created a perfect itinerary for us, and provided the most amazing guiding and education and companionship, and just plain fun and adventure, for the entire 2+ weeks of our Sabi Sand safari, and I hope that you will join them in the future on your own safari dream trip!

 

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