Sabor (Tarzan)

Sabor is a generic name for lionesses (originally tigers) in Mangani, the fictional language of the great apes in the Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. In Burroughs' works several lionesses appear under the name of Sabor. In the Disney animated movie Tarzan, Sabor is a term for leopards, more specifically the leopard that killed Tarzan's parents.

Sabor in Disney's Tarzan film.
First appearanceTarzan
Last appearanceTarzan II
Created byEdgar Rice Burroughs
AliasThe leopard

Evolution of the term

In the initial magazine publication of the original Tarzan novel Tarzan of the Apes in 1912, Sabor meant "tiger". Burroughs subsequently altered the meaning to "lioness" for the story's 1914 book publication after being informed that there are no tigers in Africa. He substituted "lioness" rather than "lion" because there was an existing Mangani term for lions in the story, Numa. Lions thus attained the distinction of being the only creatures with separate terms in Mangani for the male and female, explainable ex post facto due to the marked visual distinction between the sexes, male lions being maned and female lions not.


In Tarzan of the Apes there are four major incidents involving lionesses, representing at least two and likely four separate individuals. In Chapter 5 a Sabor attacks the young Tarzan at a lake, prompting the latter to jump in to escape, and incidentally learn to swim.[1] In Chapter 8, Tarzan attempts but fails to kill a Sabor by using his rope to lasso the creature.[1] In Chapter 11, Tarzan kills a Sabor with his bow and arrow, prompting a jealous attack on the ape man from Kerchak, the ape king, which results in Tarzan killing Kerchak and becoming king of the apes in his stead.[1] In Chapter 14 a Sabor tries to break into Tarzan's cabin, in which Jane Porter and her maid Esmeralda are hiding; Tarzan drags the beast from the window and kills it in Chapter 15, rescuing the two women.[1]

Burroughs uses lionesses more sparingly in later volumes in the series. In Chapter 5 of the sixth book, Jungle Tales of Tarzan (1919), the ape man observes a Sabor mourning her dead cub.[2] In Chapter 1 of the ninth book, Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1923), a Sabor is killed by a black warrior, leaving an orphan cub that Tarzan names Jad-bal-ja, raises, and makes one of his principal animal allies.[3] Another Sabor features as the mate of Jad-bal-ja in Tarzan and the Lion Man (1934), the seventeenth book, appearing in Chapters 14 and 16.[4]


In the Walt Disney Feature Animation animated movie Tarzan, the meaning of the word was changed yet again, to "leopard", despite the prior existence of a different and quite serviceable Mangani term for leopard (Sheeta). The alteration appears to have been made for two reasons. The first was for factual accuracy; lions are in fact creatures of the veldt, not the jungle as portrayed in Burroughs's tales; in African jungles, the dominant (and only) large predator is indeed the leopard. The second was more aesthetic; Sabor, they felt, is simply a more evocative and interesting word than Sheeta.

The specific Sabor appearing in the film is the leopard that killed Tarzan's parents and also killed Kala's and Kerchak's child, but is later killed by Tarzan as a result. This occurs during a running fight between the two that culminates when Sabor leaps down on Tarzan and plunges them both into a pit and is impaled through the head of Tarzan's spear tip as the ape man raises it against the leopard. Tarzan then shouts out his famous ape man cry, as he lifts up Sabor's corpse.

Sabor also made a brief appearance in Tarzan 2, in chasing Tarzan into a valley. Sabor nearly kills Tarzan, but she is frightened off by the sudden cry of the Zugor.

Sheeta, the discarded original Burroughs designation, was later used in The Legend of Tarzan show as the name for one of two black panthers that attack together (the name of the other was Noru). Black panthers are actually a color variety of leopards and they do exist in African jungles, although they are rare. Sabor has been mentioned in the series.

Despite being a leopard, Sabor was portrayed in a very stylized way, with a body and head with strange angles, very long thin fangs (almost like those of a saber-toothed cat), and scarce spots unlike those of a real leopard but of a jaguar. This design contrasts sharply with that of other characters in the movie (like Kerchak) who were designed on a relatively more realistic style. As usual in film depictions of big cats, Sabor's roars are a mixture of sounds of several felines, including leopards, lions, and tigers but especially cougars. Sabor is noticeably one of the more feral and violent animals created by Disney, a clear contrast to the typical kid-friendly character style of other Disney characters, and is the only major animal character in Tarzan to not talk.

Kingdom Hearts

Sabor appears as a boss in the Deep Jungle world in the 2002 Disney-Square video game Kingdom Hearts. After the main character, Sora, crash-lands in the treehouse, Sabor attacks him, but Sora is able to hold the leopard back until Tarzan appears and drives the leopard away. Sabor later attacks Sora, Donald, Goofy and Tarzan several times but is always forced to retreat. Eventually, just when Clayton goes missing, Sabor appears for one final battle with Sora, who immediately kills the leopard. In Jiminy's diary, a masculine pronoun ("He") is used for Sabor, which would seem to indicate that the Disney incarnation of the character is a male. Though no information on the leopard's gender is given in the movie itself, the supervisory animator, Dominique Monféry, does refer to Sabor as a female in an interview with Howard E Green.[5]


  1. Burroughs, Edgar Rice. Tarzan of the Apes, A. C. McClurg & Co., 1914.
  2. Burroughs, Edgar Rice. Jungle Tales of Tarzan, A. C. McClurg & Co., 1919.
  3. Burroughs, Edgar Rice. Tarzan and the Golden Lion, A. C. McClurg & Co., 1923.
  4. Burroughs, Edgar Rice. Tarzan and the Lion Man, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., 1934.
  5. Green, Howard E. Tarzan Chronicles, Disney Editions., 1999.
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