There are times in the bush where one feels hugely conflicting emotions. We love to see big cats interact with one other but when these situations occur, they are also vulnerable to injury, something none of us would ever wish on an animal. So this morning when Andrea Campbell radioed in to say that the two Tsalala Breakaway lionesses were heading in the direction of the Nanga female leopard and her cub, James and I found ourselves feeling completely torn between exhilaration and concern.

The Nanga female was resting about ten metres from the base of a Jackalberry Tree, where she had stashed an impala kill. Her cub was playing about twenty metres away from her. We could hear the two lionesses getting closer and closer to the leopard pair from the sound of Andrea’s vehicle following them towards us. Andrea eventually joined our sighting, parking her vehicle adjacent to ours and I turned to look behind us. There stood two lionesses behind a thicket, ears perked up, eyes trained on the female leopard. They were well aware of her but she was fast asleep, none-the-wiser about the imminent threat.

Nanga 4:3 Female
2009 - present

The Nanga female was born to the Nyelethi 4:4 female in 2009 as part of a litter of three.

Nanga 4:3 Female

Saseka Female
16 stories
2 known
4 known

Every part of me wanted to shout at the leopard to wake up and when listening to the video of the sighting I could actually hear myself anxiously whispering “Wake up, wake up, wake up”, trying to urge the leopard to rouse from her slumber.

Thankfully, as the lionesses rounded the vehicle and got to within about ten metres of her, their rustling footfalls in the grass became alerted her to their presence. She opened her eyes, saw the huge shape of the Tailless lioness only metres from her and immediately bolted for the tree. This is typical behaviour of leopards, as they are incredibly adept climbers and feel safe to climb high into a tree’s boughs where lions are unlikely to follow. Amazingly, the Tailless lioness shot up the tree behind the leopard, although with nothing like her speed and agility. Due to her weight and size and therefore much more limited climbing ability, the lioness wasn’t able to climb as high as the leopard and the Nanga female found safety up in the thinnest branches. The leopard cub had meanwhile shot down towards the Manyalethi River, managing to escape the interaction altogether. The lioness turned her attention to the impala carcass in the fork of the tree and settled down to feed on it. The younger lioness only joined her once she had been unable to find any scraps at the base of the tree.

Eventually the Nanga female crossed from the top of the Jackalberry tree into the adjacent Leadwood and settled down to watch the feeding lions for a while. Once the second lioness had scaled the tree and the two were distracted and intent on feeding, the leopard quietly descended and bounded off. We can only assume that she headed in the direction of her cub and took it to safety.

The younger lioness spent a further thirty minutes or so in the tree, trying to get at the carcass, which the Tailless lioness guarded by growling and snapping at her. When the carcass was finished, they awkwardly descended back to the ground.

The Tailless growls at her sub-adult niece, refusing to share the spoils. Photograph by James Tyrrell

Lions pose a very real threat to leopards. In fact, the Xidulu female leopard was recently killed by lions, and I’ve personally seen the Tsalala Pride chase leopards such as the Camp Pan and Marthly males in the past. This particular pride were responsible for killing  the Dudley Riverbank 5:5 male, in all likelihood the Tutlwa female and possibly even a few unconfirmed individuals to add to that list too. The Nstevu Pride mauled the 4:4 male and he eventually died as a result of the injuries sustained during the fight. So despite this being an amazing scene to witness, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief when the Nanga female and her cub managed to escape the encounter unscathed.

About the Author

Amy Attenborough

Media Team

Amy has a rich field-guiding history, having spent time at both Phinda and Ngala Game Reserves. This diversity of past guiding locations brought her an intimate understanding of different biomes across South Africa, and she immediately began making a name for herself as ...

More stories by Amy


on Lionesses Chase Leopard off Kill
    Irene Nathanson says:

    Wow. As I began reading my heart just stopped concerned for nanga and her cub. What a great siting and story. Well told and captured. Seeing both the tailess lioness and those leopards recently during my stay made it even more interesting

    Laura Eberly says:

    Wow! thank heavens the lionesses did not catch her!
    Do you know if Karula who roamed the Djuma area was a daughter of Vomba? They said she was of Sunset bend heritage and so now I am trying to piece together her lineage.
    Thank you so much!

    Amy Attenborough says:

    Hi Laura. From what we know, we don’t think she was a daughter of Vomba. If you’re looking for more information on lineages though, take a look at our website dedicated to the leopards here… This may help!
    Thanks so much, Amy

    Susan Strauss says:

    Ugh, my heart is in my throat!

    Wendy Hawkins says:

    Wow wow wow!!! How amazing is this and I am also happy that the Nanga female managed to get away from the tailless lioness – phew! Thanks Amy

    Lance Hutchins says:

    I’m really enjoying staying connected with current events at Londolozi via this daily blog. We visited in late April, but it almost seems like we never left!
    I’m sure Andrea probably explained this to us, but can you remind a newbie the significance of the “4:4”, “3:2” and “5:5” numbers when describing individual leopards? Thanks and warmest regards to the Londolozi crew!

    Amy Attenborough says:

    Hi Lance. The numbers refer to the number of spots on the uppermost line of a leopard’s cheeks from left to right if you’re facing the leopard. They help us to identify and distinguish one individual from another. Here is a link to a blog where the process is explained in detail.
    Many thanks, Amy

    MJ Bradley says:

    Wow!! I am so happy that the beautiful Nanga female made good her escape and her cub also. Hearts must have been pumping hard during this event! The Tailless Lioness still has some pep in those old bones.

    Mary Beth Wheeler says:

    Suspenseful story-telling, Amy!! So pleased Nanga is safe!

    Susan Farrington says:

    Wow, what a sighting! Thanks for the video, and I’m so glad the leopard got away safely. I would be holding my breath, too! That was pretty cool how she crossed over to the other tree to get away.

    Lea says:

    A heart stopping blog Amy, but thankfully all turned out well. Amazing to see tail less climbing the tree, but guess they will do anything for a meal. Thankfully Nanga was able to make her escape and hopefully back to her cub. Great story. Thank you

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