February 12

Silvan Safari Blog – The passing of a Sabi Sand legend

6  comments

February 12, 2021

As many of you are undoubtedly aware, Silvan lost one of its most famous leopards recently, Hukumuri. He was a resident male leopard that dominated the north of the Sabi Sand Private Reserve, most recognisable by his distinctive blind right eye. To guests and staff of Silvan as well as the Sabi Sand in general, he was a consistent source of thrilling moments and fascinating stories, and as such, we felt the best way to honour his memory was to share some of his story with you.

The start of Hukumuri’s story

Hukumuri under spotlight, Photo Credit: Stephanie Hornsey

Hukumuri directly translated, means “Chicken Medicine”. The “Huk” or “Huks”, as he was known by those of you familiar with him, is believed to have been born in 2013 near Crocodile Bridge in the Kruger Park (over 100km away from Silvan) and is the son of the Gomondwane male whose territory was established in the region surrounding Lower Sabie in the Kruger Park. It is here that the story of Hukumuri becomes quite remarkable. After having been forced from the area of his birth (by his father no doubt), he embarked on an impressive journey that covered an extensive area, taking him as much as 130km away from his former home. Records indicate that he was sighted on Ngala Reserve as a young male, before moving south through the Manyelethi Reserve until he found the northern Sabi Sand to be a suitable territory.

What this kind of journey almost certainly indicates is a very healthy leopard population all the way along his route. It is likely that he encountered, or was aware of, a number of large territorial males on his way and this quite probably earned him his notorious appetite for a brawl.

The eye injury & Hukumuri at Silvan

Hukumuri and his recent eye injury
Hukumuri’s eye injury sustained after a scrap with the Anderson male, Photo Credit: James Tyrell

Having made his way into the Silvan and Londolozi area in 2017, he established a territory which he slowly began to expand further south. It is around this time he once again encountered some large male leopards. Whilst never 100% confirmed, it is believed that he had at least one run-in with the Anderson 4:4 male of Londolozi, who was renowned for his size (unofficially the largest male leopard in the Sabi Sand) and dominance in the northern Sabi Sand. It is in one of these battles (thought to be in June 2019) that he suffered the eye injury that ultimately cost him sight in his right eye and made him such a recognisable character in the years to come. Evidence suggests that despite this injury and a torn ear sustained in the battle, Hukumuri (and likely with some help from Hosana) he unseated the Anderson male, who was last seen in the area during November 2019 in very poor condition.

Hukumuri on his way to Silvan
Hukumuri scanning the riverbed before walking into Silvan, Photo Credit: Kyle Olivier

In the time between then and now, Hukumuri enjoyed dominance in this territory, thrilling our guests and those of neighbouring lodges in equal measure. Known as something of a “warthog specialist” he was a fierce hunter and could often be seen with minor injuries or scrapes he collected like trophies as he walked his path as a true king of the Sabi Sand. It is unfortunate that we will no longer be able to witness the intriguing dynamic play out with the increasing pressure being placed on his territory by the Tortoise Pan male and his unwitting former ally Hosana.

Hukumuri’s Passing

A classic Hukumuri walk by

The circumstances surrounding the exact details of his passing have been subject to many rumours. We would however like to share the limited facts surrounding his death that we are sure of.

The Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Authority (MPTA) has confirmed that Hukumuri was shot by the staff of the Manyeleti Game Reserve with the full authority of the MPTA on 16 January 2021 in a village a few kilometres north of the Sabi Sand. This decision was taken as an absolute last resort.

Hukumuri had killed a large number of livestock. The community had become increasingly concerned about the safety of their young children as they are often tasked with looking after the livestock in the villages. A non-territorial, possibly injured or sick leopard is not only a threat to livestock but also the community. Despite their obvious frustration and concern, the community did not take matters into their own hands but contacted the relevant conservation authorities.

Darting and relocating leopards in instances such as these are rarely successful due to the factors that forced them out of their territories to begin with. In spite of this, many attempts to capture Hukumuri were made but were ultimately unsuccessful.

Many of us will feel the hurt and sadness of such a loss very keenly, and the Silvan family like many other lodges in the Sabi Sands mourn the passing of a true legend. However, we hope to focus on the array of incredible memories, magical moments epic encounters he gave us during his time in the Sabi Sands and treasure them now more than ever.

RIP Hukumuri – you will be missed.

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About the author 

Brad Mitchell

With a deep-set love of the outdoors and making moments count in all aspects of life, nothing makes Brad happier than taking in sunrises and sunsets. He can often be found either running, surfing or playing sports somewhere in Cape Town. After spending a year abroad followed by studying and working in Gauteng, Brad jumped at the chance to live in the Cape and has never looked back since! With a background in all things Marketing, he is driven by creativity and turning crazy ideas into real life actions!

  • It’s such a shame that we have to kill a leopard when there seems to be a shortage of such beautiful animals in the first place. RIP HUKUMURI

  • Many thanks for posting Hukumuri’s story. As a relatively recent viewer of Wild Earth’s game drives (from May 2019 onwards) I have only got to know him since then, but Huk always impressed me. He always had that look of menace in his eyes that burned right into your soul. I think my first sighting of him was on one of Jamie Paterson’s sunset drives on Wild Earth, moseying along scent-marking as he went, with his trademark tongue hanging out. And he kept on coming towards the vehicle and he passed on the left side of the vehicle, he flashed a look right into the camera lens as if to say, “Evening all!”.

    I also remember the near encounter with Tlalamba on a Wild Earth drive with James Hendry. We were sitting with Tlalamba when she began to get a bit worked up. Obviously, she sensed another leopard approaching and then we saw Huks sauntering along a game path and Tlalamba ducked down low and we really thought there might be an altercation between them because Tlalamba had a carcass which must have been a bit obvious to anyone with a good sense of smell because it was absolutely honking. But to our surprise, Huk just kept on his mission and completely blanked Tlalamba. Tlalamba was pretty shocked too because as Huk disappeared into the distance, she sat bolt upright on her hind quarters with this nonplussed look on her face! It was really funny!

    Hukumuri was really good for us Wild Earth viewers and the tragedy of his passing cuts to the heart of all his many fans who knew him better than I did. He was a magnificent boy and will certainly be missed by us all.

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