I still to this day find it mystifying how one cat…one large, stunning, inscrutable, spotted, wild cat… can hold our imagination, and invoke such adoration in people living over half a globe away!
Such is the addicting power of those live-streaming daily safaris brought to the world by WildEarthTv. We fall in love with the cats and creatures of the African bush, and then are driven to be able to see them, and be in their actual physical presence in the wild, soaking up their allure and mysteriousness and wild charms.
Over 20 months of travel planning with Wandering Thru, one serious pandemic and much world chaos, and there we finally were…vaccinated and healthy, and so excited to travel around the globe and arrive at the doorstep of Hosana!
Suite at Singita Boulder Lodge
Hosana is a 5 year old male leopard who is world famous. Literally world famous, his name has even trended on Twitter at points in time over the years. He grew up in the Northern Sabi Sand, the last son of a famous dominant leopardess named Karula. Hosana (and his sister Xongile) were orphaned when they were 13 months old, and thereafter their lives and destinies were closely followed by the addicted viewers of WildEarth and of the WanderingThru private guides Tristan, Ale and Tayla working as wildlife tv-presenters there at the time. We loved watching Hosana grow up, and become a fierce hunter, and a large impressive young male leopard. His personality and antics, and his almost constant presence on Djuma Private Game Reserve allowed us an unprecedented daily virtual look at the life of a wild male leopard.
When Hosana was 3.5 years old, he moved away from “home”. Male leopards disperse away from their natal areas to find new territories, new mating opportunities, new places to hunt their food. They usually have a tough nomadic phase of life to find their place without too many competing males trying to kill them and/or keep them out. However, Hosana, being the golden boy that he is, managed to find his new home territory relatively quickly, ending up on the elegant northern Othawa property which encompasses the traverse Singita Sabi Sand Game Reserve, where the land was wild and gorgeous, full of water and food, and female leopards for good company. To top it off, there were no other males seemingly in his way to claim his new territory!
My goal on our Wandering Thru safari, along with my hubby Rick, and our fabulous Wandering Thru private guide, Tristan Dicks, was to search high and low for “our” boy Hosana while we stayed for a few days at Singita Boulders Lodge. Tristan is an experienced, leopard-crazy guide and master photographer who spent many an hour during his stints with WildEarth with this cat. I was hoping to soak up his incredible knowledge of the Sabi Sands leopards and get some photography pointers, as well, being a (very) novice wildlife photographer myself. You could not ask for a more professional, and yet warm, funny, engaging, knowledgeable person to track and search for a world-famous leopard!
The first full morning drive of our stay at Singita, we (Lisa, Rick, Tristan, tracker Emanuel, Singita guide Paul) set out before dawn in the very chilly air, and full of excitement and anticipation for our search for Hosana. We crossed the river heading north onto the Othawa property. The methodology of searching for one particular specific cat, is to know where they usually like to be, where their usual territory is, what their typical daily habits are, when they last ate something, any regular water points or roads or landmarks that they like to frequent, and then to start peering avidly at the ground looking for their tracks. There is a big science and art to tracking, and it is a complex process which takes years to learn and understand – which is why having a great tracker and guide on your safari vehicle is the key to finding the elusive leopards!. Suffice to say that over the next 5 full safari drives, in 3 days, we were driving round and round in circles on and off-road, staring at the ground for tracks and signs, listening for other animals’ alarm calls and pondering the inner mind and psyche of a cat. We were wondering, discussing, driving, thinking, postulating and ruminating about this cat’s mind, while we searched and searched and searched. Along the way we saw herds and herds of ellies and buffalo, birds, impalas, and rhinos while getting lots of fresh air and some hot African sunshine. We had plenty of bush loo stops, coffee and lunch breaks, and enjoyed quiet moments of the sounds of the bush. We had tons of great jokes, stories, discussions and conversations too!
After lunch on our first day we finally found some tracks to work with that were likely Hosana’s. We started tracking him from the vehicle….tracking him on foot (our tracker Emanuel) through thick scrubby bush. At the end of the first full day, we ended up at a dam (Mzembe Dam), that was supposed to be a favorite of Hosana’s and in the core of his territory. While we were sitting there in the near dark after sunset, spotlighting the area in general curiosity, we spied (well actually, Tristan spied!) a small leopard cub sitting in the dark all by itself on top of the dam wall! It was far enough away in the dark that we didn’t get photos, but it was there! And it was likely in the known territory of a shy female leopard named Nkangala, that Hosana had been seen mating with in May 2020! So the timing was right, the location was right, and his tracks were also seen frequently in the area……was this a sighting of the very first offspring of our dear favorite male leopard, Hosana?
Brimming with excitement, we drove back to the lodge and had a great dinner and discussion before getting some sleep that night.
The next morning, we started out even earlier before dawn….again with purpose and anticipation! Tristan showed me right away that he had worn his special favorite good-luck Hosana socks (given to him by a Hosana fan and previous guest on one the Wandering Thru privately guided safaris with Ale Olivieri!), and I piled on all of my “bush jewelry”….simple beaded bracelets and assorted doodads round my wrist, to bring extra Good Luck that day! It was a very cold day, but it didn’t matter, we were on the hunt again. We went directly towards Mzemba Dam where we saw the cub the previous night, and along the way we found Hosana’s tracks in the drainage line leading straight to the same dam! Our tracker was on foot tracking, and we tracked from the vehicle. There were cub-sized tracks, female leopard tracks, Hosana’s tracks overlapping behind us and around us, but no Hosana!
Back to the lodge and a lunch break.
In the afternoon (4th full drive searching!), we had 2 other lodge vehicles out with their trackers helping us search for Hosana. Both of them finally gave up, but we returned to the same dam as before just before sunset. As we sat there quietly talking about the day, suddenly Tristan yelled “Leopard? Leopard!!” There was the same leopard cub perfectly camouflaged and curled up on the edge of the water! Once spotted by the humans, she quickly slunk away a short distance and hid in the grass, only her white tail tip showing. Then slowly she started to fully appear…..she stretched and moved across an open area and sat and stared at us. Slowly she melted away into the thick bush as it fell full dark. We were all elated! This time we did get photos (dark, noisy, grainy photos, but photos!).
The next morning, day 3, drive 5, we crossed the river again back north to FIND HOSANA. Tracking Hosana, tracking the female leopard, tracking the cub. Our tracker and guide disappeared for a long while into a huge impenetrable block of the bush following tracks, only to finally get thwarted by a herd of ellies crossing their path and obliterating any further leopard tracks! Fresh tracks everywhere, again, but no sign of “THE” cat. Finally, we very reluctantly were heading back to the lodge for a late brunch, but just decided to swing by 2 more dams along the way, just in case…and as we rounded the corner to Simeon’s Dam, my gaze was searching the far side of the water, when Tristan yelled:
“Leopard! There he is! It’s HIM!”
Much commotion and chaos and gleeful chuckling ensued! (Tristan and his classic happy leopard chuckle!)
Hosana was in the shade of a thicket right out the left side of the vehicle next to Tristan, as we turned into the dam! He was completely comfortably slung out sleeping in the very hot midday sun, looking relaxed, big and brawny, if a bit hungry.
He rolled over very casually, and stretched and groomed and looked at Tristan, as if to say “I have been tracking and following you round and round, what took you so long to find me?”
For the next 2.5 hours, we followed him as he moved and hunted and stopped and slept and strolled, and then finally lost him in a marathon bush-whacking session. To say that we were thrilled and elated was an understatement, and our long arduous search for this amazing cat was finally fulfilled in a very rewarding way!
Hosana clearly not bothered about the amount of effort put into finding him.
A face so fiercely beloved by many.
Although in great shape, he was looking a bit hungry.
If you wish to come on safari and see as many creatures and cats and animals as you can over a period of time, then you can easily find many like-minded people to share your journey. If you wish to come on safari searching for one very special, particular, famous, charismatic cat, then be prepared potentially for a long, long mission, with much in the way of study and discussion about animal psychology and behavior and ethics and conservation and ecology.
Wandering Thru believes passionately in the mission of bringing us into the wild, and will create and deliver a wonderful safari for you! The results, I guarantee, will be the ultimate reward.
(CODA: the little leopard cub in our search and photos looks an awful lot like Hosana in his cubbie years! Same dark face markings, same eyes! The Singita guides have been inspired to put out camera traps in the area of Mzembe Dam, in order to try to spy on the cub and his/her mama Nkangala!)
Want to head to Singita and search for Hosana? Check out our Finding Hosana itinerary for more details