Langklaas was one of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park’s best-known leopards. She was spotted on the Nossob webcam just days before her death. Dr Matthew Schurch of the Kgalagadi Leopard Project reflects on the life of this female leopard.
It is with great sadness that I report the passing of one of the Kgalagadi’s most beautiful female leopards, Langklaas.
Her passing during the early hours of 8 May 2014 at the Nossob hide brought to an end a heartbreaking few days for all who witnessed her final struggles – both in person at the hide and via the live Nossob webcam feed.
Langklaas was one of the most important leopards for the Kgalagadi Leopard Project for many reasons. She was the fourth leopard to be identified on the SANParks forum when Anne-Marie Rosset posted a sighting of her at Kannagauss on 25 April 2007. During these early years she was sighted a lot around the Langklaas waterhole and was thus named after this location. She was a particularly striking leopard with eyes that reminded one of the famous Cleopatra.
Over time, she continued to move south and began to be seen regularly around Nossob towards the end of 2011. This coincided with the creation of the Kgalagadi Leopard Project and the release of its first guide.
During my first dedicated field trip to the park during the summer of 2011, I was desperate to prove that the guide could work in the field. After a few leopard sightings which turned out to be new individuals, I was soon losing hope.
Then on 7 January 2012, I heard that a leopard had been seen at the south entrance to the Marie se Draai loop. When I arrived at the sighting, I found the leopard lying in a large tree about 50 metres from the road. Gate time was quickly approaching but after a few minutes, she finally stood up.
I quickly flipped through the guide, comparing the spots I could see through my binoculars. I managed to identify her as Langklaas and she was thus the first leopard to be identified at a sighting using the project’s guide.
If this made her a special leopard for the project, then the historical sighting submitted by Carien Uys later that month made her a star: Uys reported seeing a leopard mother and two cubs close by the Kaa turn near Grootkolk in August 2006. To my amazement, I was able to identify the mother as a female known as Kanna, and the one cub who decided to hang back and show off, as Langklaas.
We had made our first major breakthrough: we now knew who her mum was and importantly, that she was born roughly around the start of 2006 (based on her size), near Grootkolk.
This piece of the jigsaw explained everything. After growing up around Grootkolk, Langklaas decided to make a split from her mum towards the end of 2007. She then proceeded to wander down the Nossob River looking for a suitable territory of her own, eventually settling in an area around Nossob Camp.
During the years we were monitoring her through public sightings we had reports of her mating twice, once with Kgosi on 18 September 2011 and then more recently with Motsumi on 14 October 2013.
After reports in January 2014 of Langklaas looking well but without cubs or suckling marks, we had come to the conclusion this last mating was unsuccessful. Sadly, we’ve never received reports of Langklaas with cubs but it is possible that a mating along the years did produce offspring.
Early during the morning of 6 May 2014, I received notification that there was a leopard live on the Nossob webcam. Following this up, I quickly realised that the leopard was extremely unwell and was in very bad condition. I struggled to make an identification but eventually, the right camera angle gave a clear view of the back of her head. It was enough to confirm the leopard was our star, Langklaas.
She spent the next three hours lying uncomfortably at the waterhole drinking water. She eventually disappeared, leaving everyone watching online desperate for news.
On 7 May, she was again back at the waterhole. During the day she was confronted by a female lion and her young cub. Incredibly, these two lions left her alone after realising she was not a threat to either of them.
On 8 May it was reported by Nossob Section Ranger, Brent Whittington, that Langklaas had passed away. He performed a post mortem straightaway and took samples to be sent to the state vet to determine the cause of death.
Sadly, it appears at some point in the recent past she was indeed pregnant and had failed to deliver the placenta. This most likely caused an infection that resulted in her untimely death.
The sharing of the end of this beautiful cat’s life has brought many people together around the world – those who have never met in person but are linked now through a truly amazing global sighting.