African Safari blog

A stunning female leopard we’ve known as Hlabankunzi

African Wildlife

It’s been said that, when it comes to memorable travel experiences, it’s about much more than the places you visit – it’s also about the people you meet on your journey.
That’s definitely true of our own travel adventures (although the memory of the vast majesty of Africa is incredibly hard to beat!) but what is also true is that interactions and connections with animals can also have a lasting, life-long impact.

It’s why we’re feeling sad this week as we reflect on the recent passing of one of our favourite examples of African wildlife – a stunning female leopard we’ve known as Hlabankunzi.

It might seem like a mouthful of a name but it’s one that fits this proud, sleek and graceful creature we first met when she was just a small cub, frolicking in the long grass with her family.

For wildlife in Africa, life can be harsh. Poaching, of course, is a problem so many people are working hard to erase but the other enemy of wild creatures is other wild creatures themselves – including their own kind.

It seems to be the cause behind the unfortunate passing of this big cat, who leaves behind Scotia – a female with a cub of her own. No death is wasted, though, in this ancient continent, and with two male lions seen feasting on her remains, the death of Hlabankunzi is a powerful reminder of the way the circle of life continues to sustain others in a way that is natural and needed.

The average life-span of a leopard in the wild is 12-17 years old so we take comfort in the fact that, at 12 years of age, this beautiful leopard lived a full life but was showing the visible signs of pressure forced on her by younger, stronger members of the local leopard community. When it comes to leopards, there is no safety in numbers of a pride or pack, like many other animals. They live and hunt alone, except for the company of their cubs and they will protect their territory with a fight to the death, if necessary, so making it to the age she did is definitely an impressive achievement and highlights her incredible strength of both body and spirit.

We will miss her but her legacy will live on in the journey Scotia and young male Misava continue to take, as they create their own independent lives without the watchful gaze of Hlabankunzi tracking their every move.

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