Southern Africa: The Allure of the Male Munghen Leopard

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The Munghen male’s distinctive right eye can clearly be seen in this photo. This is most likely a hindrance when it comes to hunting, as leopards need good binocular vision to be able to judge distance.

Tracker Jeffrey Mhlongo and ranger Jess Boon were working the south-western grasslands in search of cheetah when Jeff heard a side-striped jackal alarm call. Knowing these little animals will often emit their wailing alarm call when they see a leopard, we moved into the area to help them out. It didn’t take too long for Mike Sithole, the tracker with whom I work, to spot an odd looking shape in the boughs of a marula tree, over 200m away, which upon investigation, turned out to be a large male leopard. His milky right eye distinctive, as well as his characteristic three lines of spots on his forehead, let us recognize him as the Munghen male. This was the first time I had seen him on our property, and the first time in almost two-and-a-half years!

The Munghen male scans the surrounding grasslands from a marula. Seeing big males in trees without kills is uncommon, as climbing is an effort, and they tend to save their energy for when it is really needed.

The area we saw him in was right in the heart of the Tugwaan male’s territory. Munghen is a male most often seen on our neighboring properties to the south and is the Tugwaan male’s southern neighbour.

What has been previously documented in male leopards is that once they are displaced as territorial males, they often return to their natal areas to live out their remaining days. We have seen the Camp Pan male (also 12 years old and maybe past his prime) spending more and more time further west, in the direction of the Tavangume Koppies on which he was born. Could it be that both of these senior members of the Sabi Sands leopard fraternity are losing their hold on their territories, and are feeling the need to return to areas familiar to them from their younger days spent under the protection of their mothers?

Time will tell, but in the meanwhile, we hope to see more of the Munghen male and his milky white eye gracing the marula trees.

Flies are a constant irritation for some animals in the bush. This morning was particularly bad for the Munghen male, as he was in a constant star of agitation; flicking his tail and ears, rolling around, and snapping at the insects that buzzed around his head.

Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell