Hosana. Hukumuri. Tavangumi.
Three male leopards, two in their prime, who have fallen to human-wildlife conflict.
Only Hosana is named in this incredible book in the ‘Remembering Wildlife’ series. He was shot, allegedly by a member of an anti-poaching patrol on a private reserve in Sabi Sand, in May last year.
News of his death caused widespread heartache, but only because the Little Chief was famous around the world. Not all leopards are mourned like he was. Many die without public notice.
Hosana, born in 2016, was found and put on camera by naturalists from Safari Live, now WildEarth, soon after he was born, and beamed around the world live online or on TV, capturing hearts with his crazy antics.
Utterly enchanting hundreds of thousands of viewers and tourists, Hosana was not only a star: as he grew, he opened a window into a leopard’s life rarely seen before. He was a joy and an education.
He seemed to love being the star, challenging the recognised norm of leopards being shy, stealthy, hard to see. He was unbothered as the naturalists followed ‒ with care and respect ‒ and cam ops filmed hours of footage of behaviours that added to human knowledge and understanding of his species.
Hukumuri, a rugged-looking leopard blinded in one eye, either in a fight with another cat or injured by prey, was past his prime and losing the territory over which he had been dominant. Under pressure, he escaped the confines of the Greater Kruger Park which had been his home, and had resorted to hunting domestic animals and livestock. As a last resort, according to statements at the time, he was shot dead.
Tavangumi, another young Greater Kruger male, died after suffering severe injuries caused when he was trapped in a snare. Vets tried to save his life with surgery and repairs, and he was freed and monitored. The stitches and shaved fur encircled his powerful body in glimpses of him back in the wild before he succumbed to his injuries.
These are just three beautiful leopards whose stories are known; many others face the same fates.
None of their stories feature in ‘Remembering Leopards’ because it is about every leopard in a world in which their numbers are falling and all need help.
These rosetted cats are the most adaptable of cats, surviving in habitats from savannas to forests to icy mountains and harsh dry terrains. In 23 of their 85 range countries, they are believed to be extinct. Their challenges ‒ over and above the tough task of surviving dangers like infanticide by natural enemies and territorial needs ‒ include loss of habitat, declining prey populations, legal and illegal hunting, poaching, traditional beliefs and climate change.
‘Remembering Leopards’ is one of a series of photographic collections sold to raise funds for the featured animals. All the proceeds from the sale go to projects or organisations working to save, in this case, leopards.
The paper is thick and satisfying, and there’s no shiny gloss you have to peer around to see the images.
Every photograph invites the viewer to stay a while: it is not a collection of “pictures” you page through. Each one demands exploration, reveals something new with every study. You have to go back again and again to recapture the beauty of these incredible cats.
Most people have a few important items ready to gather and save in case of a fire: this is one I will add to my “go” bag.
‘Remembering Leopards’ is available in book stores or online. For more information visit www.rememeringwildlife.com
The Independent on Saturday