FIG - The Leopard Queen
Eulogy to Fig, one of the most beloved leopards of the Masai Mara
The Big Five! No other phrase fires up the imagination of the safari-enthusiast more. The lion, the buffalo, the elephant, the rhino and finally, the leopard. While the rhino is a rare thing indeed, it is the most beautiful of the big cats - the leopard, that is the most prized in everyone’s mind. So, when a sighting is reported, the news spreads like wildfire through the bush (pun intended) and a horde of vehicles full of excited tourists descends on the location. The feeding frenzy that follows rivals anything seen at a free corporate lunch.
While many camps in Africa pride themselves on their resident leopard population, advertise it even - like Londolozzi in the Sabi-Sands reserve in South Africa, it is in the Masai mara that the leopard hunt is the most rewarding. You know the cat is nearby, hiding somewhere but it is oh so elusive that you could be standing right under the tree in which it is perched, but still not see it. It takes a keen and experienced eye to spot a leopard that does not want to be spotted. They are experts at hiding themselves among the branches.
What often gives them away is the tail hanging down from the branch they are resting on. Or it is the remains of the kill - usually a gazelle or an impala that is draped expertly over a branch. Then you know that is the place. Even if the leopard is not there now it is only a matter of time before it comes back. It might take a few hours, but for most of us it is worth the wait.
No other leopard has been as popular in the Mara as Fig. It is a tradition to name all female leopards since they are usually more territorial than the males and will remain in the same area for their entire life. Males are largely nomadic and are not usually named but there are exceptions to this as well.
Fig was born to Acacia in the Olare-Motorogi conservancy just north of the Masai mara national park in 2011. She lived in the same area for most of her life but would often wander into the national park which is where I had the pleasure of seeing her twice. She was known as ‘Queen Fig’ because of her regal posture as she posed on a termite mound or atop a dead tree to the great delight of her admiring audience.
During her lifetime she reared four cubs successfully to adulthood - a son Olare, (born in 2015), and three daughters - Figlet (2017), Furaha (2018) and her last one, Faulu (2020). Figlet has a territory overlapping Fig’s and is still resident in the area. Furaha was born with beautiful aquamarine eyes and was featured in this fascinating National Geographic documentary filmed by Beverley and Dereck Joubert and narrated by Jeremy Irons. She is called Toto in the film, a Swahili word for ‘small’.
I was very fortunate to see Fig mating with an unknown male in February 2020, possibly the father of her last cub Fualu.
Fig Mating with an unknown male leopard
Fig - The Leopard Queen, looking over her domain. She died a couple of weeks after this picture was taken.
In February of this year, I had the most beautiful encounter with Fig, where we saw her several times over the course of three days in the Masai mara national park. On the last day just as the sun was setting, she climbed down from the tree she was resting in, walked towards our vehicle, then past it, climbing up on to a termite mound to sit there, surveying her kingdom below. The sky was dark and stormy and through a break in the clouds, golden rays of sunshine lit up her golden body with a heavenly glow. It was a surreal experience, seeing this beautiful creation of nature before us, oblivious to our presence as she looked down upon her domain. It was as if nature itself acknowledged her right to be The Queen. We stayed with her until she climbed down, paused once more at the edge of the hill, looking over the vista below in the fading light of the day and disappeared once more into the bushes, no doubt planning the hunt for the night.
Less than a month later, she was ambushed by a big male lion at the remains of a kill and fatally wounded. She was heavily pregnant at the time. She died very close to the place she was born.Fig has been the subject of so many blogs and videos over the years, including the well-known documentary above. She has delighted thousands of visitors and photographers during her life. Her passing has left a void in the beauty of the world and although she is no more, her memory will live on in our hearts forever. May her soul find sadgati.