If Mombo has been associated with one particular animal in recent years, that creature must surely be Legadima the leopard. Her story has become the stuff of legends, and fact and fiction have become blurred. Discovered as a four-day old cub by Dereck and Beverly Joubert, Legadima seemed destined for something special from the very beginning.
Named for the lightning which split the black velvet Botswana skies in the week of her birth, Legadima was no stranger to the limelight. As the Tortilis Female’s only cub to have made it to adulthood, she was somehow different.
Simply by deigning to put in an appearance, she could lift an already stellar game drive to the next level. That’s what the addition of star power can do. A beauty among beautiful cats, she went on to found her own dynasty of spotted forest phantoms.
All of this was far in the future, however, on the occasion that she chose to hang out at Tent Two. An evening that brought home to all of us that familiar as she was, she was still a wild animal, and moved to rhythms we could only dimly perceive.
As if tired of waiting for her star turn, Legadima had made her way unseen into Camp while the guides were out looking for her on the afternoon game drive. The first indication that she was in the house was a commotion on the floodplain in front of Camp.
When the birds had settled, the descending calm found Legadima crouched by a palm island, paws possessively planted on the body of a young lechwe she had ambushed. And then she disappeared…
When the architects of Mombo had planned the layout of the guest tents in amongst the treeline, they’d be unable to resist positioning Tent Two in such a way that the curved branch of a sausage tree arched over the doorway. Legadima, it seemed, shared their taste in all things arboreal, for this is where we saw her next – with her kill.
Preliminary approaches along the walkway made it clear that she was in no mood for sharing her dinner – or her tree. We’d grown used to her almost complete indifference to humans and vehicles, but here she was, snarling and spitting like a housecat who had found the mother-in-law on her fireside chair.
A radio crackled into life: ‘Mombo, Mombo, 300 seconds’. Of course, it had to be the guests from Tent Two, returning in daylight. Mathatha! We met them as they arrived, and on the walk to their tent, explained the situation. Legadima by now had settled down to feed; she was going nowhere.
The consolation was a wonderful leopard sighting on foot, and it was needed as everything else these guests had been looking forward to (showers, a change of clothes, sherry…) was being unwittingly guarded by a jealous big cat.
In the best traditions of safari, we made a plan. Fortunately, one of the other guest tents was free, so the guests wouldn’t have to sleep under the stars. A hurried walkway conference yielded a list of the things they simply couldn’t pass the night without, and while some of us kept watch, the Camp manager drove around to the front of the tent.
Prowling nocturnal predators had meant that security against human intrusion wasn’t really a design consideration; it turned out that breaking into an old Mombo guest tent was simply a matter of shinning up some gum poles, and yanking on a zip or two.
By the time the guests had finished their sundowners at the bar, their essential items were safely in their new tent. We try not to make a habit of going through our guests’ belongings, but needs must… Legadima, meanwhile, stomach full and eyelids heavy, was drowsing on her branch, blissfully unaware that such treasures as toothpaste, deodorant, and a di Lampedusa novel had all been pilfered right from under her nose.
Legadima, when all was said and done, was a truly great cat, but a terrible watchdog.
Written by Nick Galpine