In the original 1912 serialized printing of Tarzan of the Apes, Burroughs used “sabor” as the word for tigers. After finding out Africa did not have tigers, he changed them to lionesses for the first collected edition in 1914.
Sabor is a ferocious, opportunistic female leopard (leopardess). She has no sympathy for her prey and will heartlessly kill a helpless infant. She neither speaks nor smiles and she always possesses a determined, savage demeanor. Early in the first film, Sabor killed Kala and Kerchak's baby. Presumably on the same night, she invaded the tree house of Tarzan's birth parents. After slaying the mother and father, Sabor lingered in the house. She initially seemed to be uninterested in the infant Tarzan. But when Kala found the child and decided to adopt him, the possessive leopardess objected and attacked. Kala made a frantic effort to prevent Sabor from seizing the child. She managed to escape by jumping into a lifeboat strung up to a branch via rope and pulley. As the boat descended, Sabor got caught on the other end of the rope and her foot jammed the pulley just before Kala and the baby hit the ground. The anguished leopard remained trapped there long enough for Kala to escape with the infant.
Sabor obviously never forgot her humiliating (and painful) the first encounter with Tarzan. She saw her opportunity for revenge in the midquel, "Tarzan 2: The Legend Begins". She found her long-lost prey alone in the jungle and pursued him to the infamous Dark Mountain. Sabor nearly devoured Tarzan, but the sudden cry from the fabled Zugor spooked her and Sabor fled.
Her final encounter with Tarzan occurred midway through the first film. The battle took place before the entire gorilla troupe and with Tarzan being old enough to fight back. She relentlessly attacked Tarzan and almost finally killed him. But when she made a final pounce at Tarzan, who was grabbing for his lost spearhead, she finally got what had been coming to her. It is unclear as to where he stabbed her, for they were both hidden in a pit. But when Tarzan emerged, Sabor was dead at last. With a great heave, Tarzan raised the leopard above his head and bellowed triumphantly. It was a fitting end to the conflict between Tarzan the Ape Man, and Sabor the malevolent leopardess.
Sabor is also mentioned in the sequel TV-series The Legend of Tarzan, where Tarzan may have found out that she killed his parents as he knew in the episode "British Invasion" when Jane's friend Hazel had asked about them, even describing the details of it all from the first film (it can be assumed that Kala had described it to Tarzan at one point). Tarzan even seems to hold a grudge against the whole species because of it, as seen in "The Lost Cub" as he was resentful of the leopard-cub Jane had found and taken in despite the fact the cub itself had nothing to do with killing his parents but was persuaded by Kala to give it a chance since she had done the same to him. After returning the cub to its mother it could be possible that Tarzan no longer blames all other leopards for his parent's deaths. In "Flying Ace" Tarzan compared Robert Canler to her ("When I look in his eyes, it's like Sabor is looking back").
- While Sabor is often referred to as female, her exact gender is unknown.