October 2020 – SABI SAND – Leopard features in new poster design

The Sabi Sand Game Reserve is a grouping of several private properties covering an area of about 65,000 hectares adjacent to the south-western border of the Kruger National Park. With luxurious safari lodges such as Londolozi, Kirkman’s, MalaMala, Singita and SabiSabi, this is regarded as the most prestigious and exclusive game reserve in South Africa.

Sabi Sand is best known for its supurb leopard-viewing, and there was no question that this magnificent spotted cat would be the main subject of my poster design; an adult female is shown relaxing on a lateral branch of a Marula tree, with a pair of Woodland Kingfishers in courtship display above her.

The incredible leopard viewing that high-paying guests of lodges such as Londolozi enjoy today, has a very interesting history. Back in the late 1970s, several of the local Shangaan people were employed as trackers by the Sabi Sand safari operators and their remarkable ability to find evidence of leopard activity enabled the safari guides to follow the cats by driving off-road in a sensitive but persistent manner. Eventually, the leopards came to relax in the presence of the game-viewing vehicles such that fantastic photographic opportunities became commonplace and natural leopard behaviour could be observed. Up until then, even professional ecologists working in other African wildlife reserves, could not get close enough to these shy and wary cats to study their natural history. Repeated encounters with individual leopards – recognisable by the unique arrangement of their whisker-spots – led to an understanding of territorial, breeding and hunting behaviour that was presented for the first time in Lex Hes’s wonderful book ‘The Leopards of Londolozi’ (1991). For an fascinating account of Lex’s experience with leopards go to this Leadership for Conservation in Africa podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-CfQ6b2_9o

I was fortunate to be able to visit Londolozi in this era thanks to my good friend James Marshall who had become a guide and invited me to visit on a regular basis. These weekend trips allowed me to enjoy repeated observations of an animal that had eluded me on countless visits to the adjacent Kruger National Park, where one was considered lucky to see the tail of a rapidly departing leopard! Friendships with James’ wife Trish, Hugh Marshall & Julie Holl, Drew Paterson, Tony & Dee Adams and Lex Hes developed during these visits and Londolozi (owned by the Varty family) was the seed from which andBeyond (then known as Conservation Corporation Africa) sprouted; my association with andBeyond over nearly 30 years has led me to tackle numerous nature-interpretation projects and enabled me to visit many remarkable places.

Observations by guide and trackers at Londolozi proved that Leopards were not as nocturnal as formerly believed and that they often hunted during the day; this female has captured a warthog piglet. Photo: Duncan Butchart

Not surprisingly, the leopard-viewing techniques honed in the Sabi Sand quickly spread to other wildlife reserves in South Africa and other parts of the continent. Furthermore, the movement of some ‘habituated’ leopards from private reserves into the Kruger National Park (there is no fence between them) seems to have significantly improved leopard viewing in this famous public-access reserve.

Duncan Butchart, September 2020

** Note – the Sabi Sand reserve is often mistakenly referred to as the ‘Sabi Sands’, but the correct name refers to its position between two rivers – the Sabi River and the Sand River, which meet a little way to the east, close to Skukuza in the Kruger National Park.

3 thoughts on “October 2020 – SABI SAND – Leopard features in new poster design”

  1. Fascinating, Duncan! I’ve added one of these lodges to my bucket list. Love the poster / art work of Sabi Sand leopard. Keep up your amazing creative work!

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