Written by: Flo Montgomery
In January this year I posted an article about Fundi the leopard who grew up in the area around Mdonya Old River Camp in Ruaha, Tanzania. Many people who read the article feared that the leopard was becoming too attached to humans, and that there might be a danger to him because of this. So I want to tell you a little about what has happened to him since 2011.
Leopards have the largest distribution of any wild cat, partly because they are great survivors. There are many times more leopards than lions in Ruaha – but they are so stealthy that they are hard to spot. Pound for pound, the leopard is stronger than the lion – their amazing neck muscles give them the ability to carry their prey up in to the trees. The leopard is a gifted, swift and effective hunter, though it is less than half the size of a mature lioness. Here is the story as we know it, of this curious leopard.
Fundi and his sister were born in the Mdonya area. Sometime in their first year, Fundi’s mother may have been killed, as the leopard cubs were never spotted with her. Most leopard cubs stay with the mother for 18-24 months, so Fundi missed out on early training.
Fundi is seen in the area, showing curiosity about the tsetse fly traps and their blue material. Fundi’s sister was also seen from time to time but remained very shy.
From July 2011, Fundi increasingly came into the camp – especially to the staff quarters and garage area. Aware, yet not afraid, of the inhabitants there, this young leopard was extremely curious about the comings and goings of staff, paying particular attention to the operations of the garage, hence he was named Fundi, which is Kiswahili for ‘mechanic’.
During the evenings he was often seen taking a rest underneath the parked cars while watching life go by. Although his presence was welcome, there was an innate sense of hesitation amongst the staff for very good reasons, he is after all a leopard and although beautiful, extremely wild!
Living with a wild leopard has been entertaining for some and extremely daunting for others. An unsuspecting staff member on his way for an evening shower had the surprise of his life when he turned the corner of the kitchen to find Fundi having a rest beside the kitchen wall. The amazing creature promptly got up and walked off into the bushes to the relief of this staff member, who is unlikely to forget the close encounter. But these instances became less frequent as Fundi matured.
Later in the year Fundi came up close with safari goers as he jumped on a safari car in the reserve. This amazing film was taken by Bobby Jewell, a guest at Mdonya Camp.
Fundi was regularly seen around the Mdonya river bed area, some 10 minutes from camp, sometimes at the outskirts of the camp, and on one fine occasion, up on the bonnet of one of the open-sided game vehicles, as seen in the film.
Another larger male was spotted on a number of occasions in trees surrounding the camp in 2012. He was extremely shy and although his home range was unclear, there might have been some overlapping territory with Fundi. As the dominant older male we had no doubt he would challenge Fundi. This said, there were still many sightings of our curious friend in 2012, as evidenced in these photos.
For some weeks since the camp re-opened in June, no one had seen Fundi. This included the Maasai, with their eagle eyes and super powerful night vision. But in August he reappeared and was again seen at Mdonya on a regular basis. He was seen in broad daylight in some of his old haunts and wandering around camp and in staff quarters at night when the lions weren’t around.
In February Fundi took up residence in a tree close to the staff quarters with the remains of an impala and very obligingly climbed up and down the tree for the guests to photograph him. We suspect it was also Fundi who successfully hunted another impala between some of our tents, but once again the hyenas moved in so we were not sure who eventually had the spoils.
This season it was business as usual with regular sightings. There was a wonderful sighting of Fundi in camp, just lying quite contentedly down in the river bed conveniently on an open patch of ground.
As the year went on we started to see less and less of Fundi, though the camp night camera caught Fundi drinking at the camp waterhole in December.
There were no recorded sightings of Fundi in 2015 as he became more shy and elusive – he was spotted, but never caught on camera.
Fundi was seen again at Mdonya earlier this year, but is still quite elusive. He can be heard calling quite often, but there have been other leopards in camp – a big male and female with a sub-adult cub. The camp is probably in between the junction of the two males’ territories, with one side belonging to Fundi and the other side, the big male.
Fundi was seen once on the road, but for the rest of the season he has only been seen at night with the camera trap. Recently we thought we spotted him at camp in the evening escorting a guest to the bathroom – he passed in front of us and disappeared into the thick bushes. I was sure it was Fundi as I recognised the pattern of the neck collar spots.
Now the grass is tall around the camp, but the baboons making alarm calls and impalas snorting is a good indication that a predator is still near by, probably a leopard – maybe even Fundi.
This diary shows that in spite of being apparently unafraid of humans when very young, the leopard has learnt how to survive and is now a fairly typical shy, elusive animal. The average typical life span of a leopard is between 12 and 17 years – so we hope to see Fundi around for a long time to come!