Life in the African bush is unforgiving and harsh, as uncomfortable as this reality may be. The phrase "survival of the fittest" rings true. However, "survival of the fittest, luckiest and smartest" is probably more accurate, even if the latter doesn't quite roll off the tongue as easily.
It's easy to forget that the animals on safari we feel so attached to and grow to cherish are at risk every day. And they could leave us just as soon as they arrive.
In Memory of Thandi, Queen of Djuma
With this somewhat sobering thought, we announce the passing of Thandi, a local legend in the northern Sabi Sand. Thandi was among our more regularly sighted leopards at Silvan and is woven into the region's history by virtue of her ongoing legacy. A favourite among guests and guides alike, Thandi was often fondly referred to as the Queen of Djuma. Her story is quite something and one we'll attempt to tell in this tribute.
The Tale of Thandi
Born in late 2006 to Karula, a fabled leopard of the Sabi Sand in her own right, Thandi was one of two cubs. She was initially christened Saseka. However, the name didn't quite stick, so she was renamed "Thandi", which means "beloved". And she most certainly did justice to this name!
Although among the smaller female leopards in the northern Sabi Sand, Thandi made up for her stature with a fierce character and strong will. She earned a degree of fame by being a recurring "cast member" on the popular Wild Earth virtual safari series. Whether she knew it or not, the Queen of Djuma undoubtedly sparked a flame in many African wildlife lovers' hearts worldwide.
Until her mother's disappearance in 2017, Thandi's territory occupied the Buffelshoek and Eastern regions of the northern Sabi Sand. After that, she was seen more frequently in the eastern sections of the Djuma area, where she raised her daughter Tlalamba. In recent times, Thandi was seen regularly around Chitwa Chitwa and Torchwood, where her son Maribye kept her company.
The Legacy Left by Thandi
It seems strange to judge a leopard's success by the amount of offspring she sired. But, it's nature's harshest scale of judgement. Aside from the countless memories she blessed us and our guests with, Thandi was a successful mother. She managed to raise six cubs from seven litters to independence between 2010 and 2020, and among them are some familiar faces.
These include Tlalamba, Maribye, Kuchava (currently raising a cub of her own), Thamba, Wabayiza and Bahuti. They all continue our Queen's legacy in the Sabi Sand, and we hope they will keep on delighting guests just like their illustrious mother did.
Thandi's Unfortunate Passing
On a game drive in early April, there were reports of an injured leopard to the east of Arathusa. A team from our neighbours at Arathusa went to investigate, and the area was closed off to game viewing vehicles to avoid stressing the leopard in question.
Thandi was found with a large wound in her chest but still mobile and capable of climbing a tree. Whilst there has been a fair bit of speculation regarding the cause of her injury, there's too little concrete evidence to be able to share it with you.
The following morning, attempts were made to locate her but were unsuccessful. Following an on-foot investigation by armed rangers from Arathusa the subsequent morning, Thandi's lifeless body was found quite some distance from where she was last seen.
To respect Mother Nature's process and the cycle of all living things, Thandi's body was left undisturbed to return to the ecosystem. As our neighbours at Arathusa so eloquently stated, "From the earth we came, and to the earth, we shall return".
So, while this is a sad moment for all of us at Silvan and the entire Sabi Sand, it's hard not to smile when we pause to think of Thandi. The countless special memories and treasured glimpses into her life she shared with us remind us just how lucky we were.
Therefore, instead of being grief-stricken and hurt by this unfortunate passing, we're choosing to be grateful to have been blessed with the time we had with Thandi.
Rest in Peace, Thandi, our Queen of Djuma.
*With thanks to our friends and colleagues at Chitwa Chitwa and Arathusa who so graciously contributed to telling Thandi's story.