The Nyeleti male leopard, photographed by Damin Dallas
Nyeleti, meaning ‘Star’ in the local language is a household name at Singita Sabi Sand game lodges, and some of us describe this male leopard as a beloved colleague. He has been, and still is, dominant in most of the western part of our property and a portion north of the Sand River which runs from west to east in front of Ebony and Boulders Lodges. For the better part of about 12 years we have had the privilege of enjoying sightings of this magnificent animal, with many pictures shared over the world. He has defended his territory successfully from many other adversaries trying to invade it.
He is now an old legend who is still running the show, except for the fact that every now and then he shows up with some battle wounds, which is something that never happened before. He does seem to spend a bit more time in a small part of his large territory, which could be a tell-tale that the tide might be turning. The north does have a rather large male leopard that seems to visit and he comes into Nyeleti’s territory - a young, big strong-shouldered leopard known as the Hosana male. The south west also has a male, a rather intimidating looking creature who goes by the name of the Thamba male…
The females in Nyeleti’s territory get thrown into uncertainty with all these developments as they just don’t know with whom to mate… and which male will be dominate during their cubs’ vulnerable early years. When new males show up and the old male can’t chase them away, and cubs can get killed by the new incomer. Mother leopards try to appease the males to keep their cubs alive. The question is who will be the next dominant male?
What happens depends on the Nyeleti male. How he handles the situations he finds himself in. Does he still have the iron paw to deal with these big boys like he used to? Or will he go the way of the other old and weak leopards of years gone by?