By Pietro Luraschi
Rosettes are rosettes, but jaguars have very different pattern and shape of rosettes compared to a leopard. On a jaguar, they are large and geometrical, especially on the back, compared to a leopards tighter and more compact formations.
There is a young male leopard that lives on the slopes of Kimilamatonge Hill, where hyraxes are his favoured prey. He is three years old and has a striking pattern of rosettes, a pattern that makes him look so similar to a jaguar that we decided to call him Onca, from the scientific name of the jaguar, Panthera onca.
When you look at him you may think you are in the wrong continent, or that he is an expat jaguar that left South America to reach Tanzania!
Hyraxes are relatively easy prey, which is why in Ruaha National Park young leopards are often spotted around kopjes and granite formations where the hyraxes thrive.
For the last two years, we always found Onca around the east side of the hill, always hunting bush hyraxes with different techniques: ambushing them in the grass, running them up Pepper Seed trees, and stalking them amongst the rocks.
The alarm calls of the hyraxes often helped us as guides to find him, his large rosettes moving through the peterodendron, his paws leaving an easy-to-follow trail on the road. He is a wonderful animal, relaxed and tolerant of our vehicles, but wild and fierce.
For the first time this year Onca killed a bigger prey species – an impala ram. This is a milestone for him: something that in the future will probably change his behaviour, moving him farther away from the safety of the hyrax hunting grounds towards more challenging but more rewarding prey.
We have been blessed to observe his unmatched beauty over the last two years, and hopefully the changes in his life will continue to allow us to enjoy his unbelievable jaguar-like pattern as he roams farther afield.