Saturday, December 28, 2013

Never To Be Forgotten

Never To Be Forgotten


Experiences, whether joyful or miserable, worthy or wicked, all add to the development and evolution of our being and shape the people we are, and the individuals we either become or strive to develop into.

This statement may seem somewhat out of place on a blog site that has been fashioned to focus on the memories of a life spent traveling Southern Africa and working in various nationally treasured wilderness areas, but there have been certain notable occurrences that cannot be omitted from the archives of my memory. However painful the emotions may have been, they need to find a place in the recorded memoirs that find life through the written word here on Rudi Hulshof’s Classic Africa.

I recently sounded the death knell of a Blog that I created almost 4 years ago, which focused almost exclusively on Wildlife Photography. There was the odd article that was posted that was divergent, and would shed light on more diverse subject matter, such as unforgettable experiences, uncommon and unusual sightings, and career updates.

Of all the posts that I deleted, one could simply not be erased by the modest click of a mouse button, as it carried with it too much importance in my life. A lesson in perseverance, one which showed me that through sheer determination, and the predisposition to survive; we can overcome impediments that manifest themselves on our path through life.

The time tense may not be correct, as this story was written over 2 years ago. I have decided that the Tribute Piece was packed with raw emotions, and thus should be posted, as it was written at that particular time:

A Tribute to Mambirri – Your Rest Is Well Deserved

There is the inevitable sorrow that will forever be associated with the loss of an animal that has become familiar to rangers, guests, photographers, and wildlife enthusiasts worldwide. In the Western Sector of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, we feel this emotion at present, due to the loss of a true little lady leopard that perished earlier this week.

Mambirri, (Translated to – Two from the Shangaan language spoken by the local Tsonga tribe) named so because of her 2 spot identification marks above each whisker line, was a leopard that called the area already mentioned above: home for a period of about 10 years.

Born in 2002 to Makwela, and fathered by the Wallingford male, she was part of a litter of 3 females that all survived and matured to independence, early in 2004. It was at this stage that this leopard became my favourite because of her remarkable resilience, and her will and fight for her very existence.
Makwela - Mambirri's Mother

Wallingford - Mambirri's Father

I cannot recall the exact dates, but around the time of her independence, Mambirri was ambushed by a powerful lion pride at an area littered with large rock-strewn boulders. She was surprised and caught unexpectedly, and given a serious beating by the lions, in an attempt to eliminate her, a carnivore, as competition for the same food source. She was left torn to shreds, and unable to move on all four legs, persistently staggering around on three paws. How she managed to survive from clutches of the lions remains a mystery till today.

For a few weeks, we agonised as we saw her losing condition rapidly, due to a cigar sized hole bitten completely through her front right paw. Soon, we did not see her at all anymore.

The “way of the wild” was what everyone declared, and we made peace with the fact that she had either died of starvation, or that she had been killed by larger predators, some of whom were already responsible for her advanced weakened state, from where survival was next to impossible.

Mambirri had all but disappeared from everyone’s thoughts, when on a particularly scorching day, 8 months after her disappearance, a leopard was located deep in the southern parts of the traversing area, feeding on a Duiker that had been hoisted into the upper branches of an Apple-leaf Tree. Much debate followed about the “new” leopard in the area on the radio frequencies, until we could get a clear view of her identifying spot pattern, and the healed front right paw, that still showed the distinctive scar from her lion bite. This Leopard could jubilantly be positively identified as Mambirri.


She was slightly more nervous than before, an expected behavioural trait after not being exposed to Safari Vehicles for many months. But, after a few weeks she had started to relax, and became habituated to her audience’s presence in the Land Rovers, to the point where she would practically brush past the cars on her travels around her newly established territory.

Her unending discomfort and agony was noticeable as she strode with a limp for a few years, before normality returned to her gait for periods of time. Every winter though, we would see her stiffen up, and the strain return, and with it her limp would be aggravated. Her front paw had clearly healed to the point of being able to function and survive, but would never be the same as before. She would have weakness associated with it for the rest of her life. Mambirri had lasted and endured, by scavenging, and hunting the smallest of prey items; mongoose, monkeys, rats, birds, etc, until she was again strong enough to focus her intent on large prey items. What a fighter, never giving up!

Her growth had undoubtedly been stunted, due to the absence of any substantial nutrition during her time spent away from human exposure, and her development, and ability to reproduce was questioned. Was she going to be the last of her blood line? Regardless, the rangers were all delighted to again be able to view one of the most unperturbed, relaxed, and discussed leopards in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve at that stage.

Skipping forward a few years, Mambirri successfully raised 2 separate litters of cubs, which respectively resulted in her 2 mature independent adult female daughters establishing their own territories. In managing this feat, against all odds, she ensured that her legacy lived on.
Metsi - Mambirri's First daughter who herself has already raised 3 cubs from 2 litters successfully. 

Kashane Male Leopard
 It was about a month and a half ago that Mambirri was observed mating with the Kashane Male Leopard. These two honeymooners vanished for a while, moving into territory that our rangers are not permitted to drive through. We were getting reports from the neighbouring lodges who were seeing them and following the antics, and a week later a skinny, ravenous Mambirri was found again, within our traversing boundaries, after completing her marathon bout of coupling with Kashane.

She had started to devote time, in an effort to establish a new territory, to the range left unoccupied after the untimely death of Makubela Female Leopard in July, and appeared to have bestowed her old territory upon her newly independent daughter Nthlangisa.

Nthlangisa - Mambirri's youngest and last daughter who has recently been seen lactating

Mambirri’s condition was getting rather desperate because of the prolonged period without a substantial meal. Her starvation and hunger reached new levels of desperation, when she was observed diving head first into a lake, in an attempt to catch a Nile Monitor that was swimming past, something rather out of character for a normally water weary beast. This was unsuccessful though, and the lodge staff were again on edge to see how, not if, she would manage to survive her newest challenge.

Her dire situation prompted her to take a risk and attempt to catch a warthog in front of Idube Private Game Reserve where I was based.

Sitting in the office I heard the squeals of a distressed animal, and rushed out to try and investigate the source of the racket.

A notorious warthog sow, regular within the lodge grounds, ran past me agitatedly searching for her sole piglet that had been accompanying her over the previous 3 months. It became apparent after much frantic grunting, that it was not returning, and had been caught by a predator. Sprinting through the lodge to collect a vehicle, I aimed it in the direction of a small dam in the front of the lodge, alas, this did not help, for as I drew adjacent to the lodge, my staff alerted me to the fact that an injured leopard had just limped through the bar and boma area, into the dry river bed running past front of the lodge.

A Warthog photographed within the gardens at Idube

Vervet Monkey alarm calls over the next two days gave away the presence of the feeding leopard, but the area that she had chosen to stay hidden away, with her prize meal, made finding or seeing her impossible. Late at dusk on the evening of the third day, Mambirri strolled to the lodge water hole, quenched her thirst, and lay down. This was my chance to go and observe if there were any lasting effects from the reported injury my staff had seen. I had to take note of the earlier rumours about her being injured, and went to investigate, only to see her right front paw, the self-same hindrance from her youth,  in a horrifying state, torn apart down the middle, all the way from her wrist, with 2 toes flapping on either side of the separation.

It seemed her previous wounds, and damaged paw had come back to haunt her, and I could only guess that in an attempt to save her piglet, the warthog sow had charged towards Mambirri, at which point, Mambirri had in all probability endeavoured to slap away the advancing mother, which led to her receiving a razor sharp tusk through her paw. The Ivory tusk would then have ripped out between her toes.

Mambirri vanished in the time that it took me to return to the lodge to get a vet dispatched via the Sabi Sand Wildtuin Management, and no further action could be taken.

 (A vet would have been called, not to necessarily assist in reconstruction work on a wild animal, but to remove an injured animal from an area where she posed a danger to staff and guests alike. As the Lodge Manager, the liability of such an attack, and responsibility that goes with it, made the call for a vet essential, and far more than just an emotional one regarding personal feelings when dealing with known animals.)

The following morning she was again within the lodge grounds, behind the kitchen, and a leopard, especially and injured one, cannot be left to wander around guests or staff. We contacted the state vet, and wildlife managers from the Sabi Sands to come and dart her, to remove her from the Lodge, and we trusted they would have assessed her condition and made the difficult decisions regarding her possible treatment at that time.

Between me and a fellow ranger, we followed her the entire day, as she slowly hobbled a total of about 300m, often losing her in the lush greenery that would envelope her whenever she would sit or lie down. On two occasions, with word that the vet was en-route, we could not find her in the thick vegetation, which meant leaving the safety of the car, and walking in the hope that she would raise herself up, and expose herself that we could continue our pursuit. This happened, and twice she allowed me within 2m of her, before standing up and slinking off. She knew she was weak, and I believe she knew we were there to assist, and thus never displayed an ounce of aggression towards me.

The vet arrived, but regrettably, the dart used to tranquillise her, never plunged when it penetrated her rump, and she disappeared before we could get another dart into her. With the light fading, the operation was postponed till we could again find her, if it was even needed. We had hoped that she would survive, and perhaps heal, but were somewhat pessimistic about the probabilities in her favour.

Mambirri in all her Splendour

Mambirri had been lost for two weeks, with no further indication of her whereabouts, or chance to get a vet to dart her, when the Local Village of Justicia notified the reserve that a leopard had been seen by residents, outside the reserve boundary fence, and was posing a threat to the lives of the inhabitants and their children. For over 2 weeks she was seen repeatedly, marauding the chicken coups of the subsistence farmers in the village, decimating their chicken and goat stocks, and posing a threat to the towns folk. Every time a report was received, a team was sent to find the leopard in order for a vet to come and dart her, to relocate her into the middle of the reserve, away from local habitation. But, sadly, she evaded the teams time and time again.

On her last night, a report was generated and communicated to the Sabi Sands Management that she had been seen charging at some people, and the team again went out in a concerted effort to find her. They located her within the reserve boundaries, and whilst waiting for a vet to arrive, she again made an effort at entering the local village, by scaling the 2.5m electric fence surrounding the Game Reserve.

Noting the severity of her injury, a decision was made that she needed to be put down, before harming, or even killing a person, or further jeopardising these people’s livelihoods by catching and destroying any more of their poultry or live stock.

Whilst attempting to escape the reserve, her will and determination was noted by the two man team from the reserve management, who mentioned that she would crawl inside the electric fence strands, and climb over the fence, wedged between the live wires that would be shocking her (enough to deter Elephants and Rhinos, at 10 000 Volts) and the square mesh fencing we call Bonnox. To endure the pain of such a shock is enough to send any grown man falling like a felled log to the floor.

She was euthanized immediately, and her remains taken to the hub of the Kruger National Park, Skukuza, where a post mortem was scheduled.  

An immediate post mortem was conducted, and the results were that she had severely dislocated and a few broken bones in her foot. Her foot had, as had been observed, been split in two, with half of her toes hanging on each side. The injuries were too severe for her to survive in the wild, and thus she had resorted to raiding the village at nights to get food to survive.

Had we managed to get her darted the first day, we would not have been able to do much for her, as her chances of survival would have been zero, she would have had depleted mobility, no chance of chasing prey, no real chance at protecting herself from rival predatory competition, and she would have lost the ability and agility to climb trees, or protect her food source, by usually hoisting it into the trees away from hyenas or lions.

Further damming internal complications were revealed in the post mortem examination, which also supported the theory that she was not going to survive much longer. Her stomach contained only chickens, a simple protein source not sufficient for a wild leopards nutritional survival needs. More alarmingly, she was in the final stage of liver failure, caused by her body producing, and needing to process the unnaturally large amounts of adrenalin to combat her constant pain. The Liver failure alone would have killed her within days. Her adrenal glands and kidneys too were severely enlarged, and internal organ failure here too was immanent.

I would like to think that her suffering was ended mercifully, albeit unnaturally, and find solace in that fact. Her death comes as a relief, rather than just a sense of loss and sadness to us that knew her.

Like tracks left in the sand, Mambirri left a mark on all those that ever saw her!

Rest now Little Lady, you experienced enough suffering in your life.


  1. I have just found you on Face Book Rudi and am enjoying reading your blog. Your photos are absolutely stunning.
    Thanks for sharing with us.

    1. Hi Edith
      Thank You very much for the feedback and the kind words. It is always appreciated.

      New Blog Post being worked on as we speak, and should be posted in the next day or two.


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