long live the king

Sandriver male leopard is facing a similar fate as his father once did (Thumbela male). He has had to become a rather nomadic male after being forced out of the northern sector of Sabi Sabi by his new nemesis, Maxabeni. Sandriver spends most of his days in the Southern sector close to Earth Lodge but has even ventured into the far Western sector of the Sabi Sands many kilometers away. It seems that with his age, born in 2000, he does not have as much fight left in him as he used to, or so we thought.

Since his arrival, Maxabeni has been rather successful in securing the northern half of Sabi Sabi by driving out all other male competition. Like most young males approaching their prime, Maxabeni is pushing out his territory as large as he possibly can but in a few years will most probably consolidate it down to something a bit more manageable. With no one to challenge his reign he has managed to father three cubs with two different females, 1 with Nottins female (±3 months) and 2 with Little Bush female (±5 months).

leopard cub

leopard cub

leopard cub while on safari at Sabi Sabi Luxury Safari Lodges

It seemed as though his path has been set for total dominance. But in a massive act of defiance a few days ago, Sandriver left the security of the Southern sector and pushed deep into the North, we have not seen him in these parts since about February 2014. Maxabeni was nowhere to be seen as he was out marking the border of his vast expanse of territory leaving his cubs totally open and exposed. Sandriver had immediately picked up on the scent of the Little Bush female and following her trail it was obvious that he realized she was not alone but was being accompanied by her two young cubs. Little Bush in the meantime was quick to stash her cubs away in the riverbed of the Msuthlu River and set off to try and stop this intruder by herself.

It is not uncommon in the life of the leopard that when a male comes across cubs that don’t belong to him he will commit infanticide and kill them, hoping to destroy any future competition without his genetics and possibly mate with the female who is now made available. Little Bush female however was not going to let this happen without a fight.

Any ranger or tracker at Sabi Sabi will tell you that the Little Bush female is by far the most tenacious female leopard on this property. As Sandriver got ever closer to the riverbed Little Bush launched her attack in full force with both claws and fangs bared. Sandriver was quick to put her in her place, but nevertheless again and again she launched her attack taking on this large male intruder. The sound audible from the onslaught was deafening. Sandriver was up and down every tree along the river’s edge closely examining and sniffing every single branch in search of the cubs and every time his paws hit the earth again Little Bush launched yet another relentless attack. For the entire day and night Little Bush stood up to Sandriver.

After the dust had settled and we got out on the drive the next morning we returned to the area to try and follow up on what had taken place the night before. It was now up to our trackers to read the story left in the sand and fill us in what had happened in our absence. By the tracks, it seems Little Bush female manage to move one cub a far distance and stash the youngster away in a thick drainage line but the tracks then return to the scene of the crime where Little Bush was seen patrolling up and down calling for the second cub. Sandriver had appeared to leave the area in the night with no trace of him to be seen. So without a visual conformation it seems that one cub has survived the wrath of Sandriver where the fate of the second cub is unknown, only time will tell.



  1. frik steinberg says

    Hoehah , long live king !! Excellent story & pictures, keep it up you guys and thnx for keeping us informed.
    I’ve got a blown-up picture of Sandriver in my office, taken at my first visit to Sabi Sabi and was fortunate that on all my other re-visits I saw him, even at the time when everybody thought he has left the area. Great news to hear that he may be back permanently to rule his domain.

  2. james t says

    Female and youngster seen on Sounthern Londoz two days ago (about 1km north of Luilekker boundary). She was calling for another cub and the next morning tracks of female + 2 were in the area. Hopefully still alive.

  3. mj says

    Thank you for sharing this encounter with us..
    While Sandriver has always been a favorite, I would like to see those cubs survive. It sounds like Little Bush is quite the star when it comes to protecting her young..
    I hope we still have a while before we must say farewell to the handsome Sandriver!

  4. tim driman says

    Great text and images guys…Its stories and images like these that maintain the publics’ interest and keeps them coming back for more.

    Regards to all from Von and I

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