The last time I drove long-time Londolozi guests Chris and Jane Wood, we were incredibly lucky (due to a fantastic spot by tracker Rich Mthabeni) to come across a pangolin which was a first for all of us. So when I heard they were coming back it got me wondering what luck they would bring back this time and whether or not we would have any more “firsts.” We were not disappointed.

The first night of their stay coincided with the first rains of the season and little did we know how much that would contribute to the sighting awaiting us the next morning.

We set out on our morning drive excited to see what effect that rain had had on both the land and the animals the night before but we weren’t quite expecting to discover just how much of an effect it had had on the impala population falling prey to leopard. Every few moments we were amazed at the reports coming through on the radio of another impala kill being found, and so we decided to head to where we had heard the Mashaba young female had made three impala kills during the rains of the previous night.

We were delighted to discover that one of the kills had been hoisted into a dead leadwood, because none of us had ever seen a leopard in one of these magnificent trees. The golden coat and rosettes of the leopard stood out beautifully from the texture of the dead tree and clear background making for an incredible sight and brilliant photogaphic opportunity. But that was not to be the highlight of the sighting at all.

I will let the photos below tell the story of what happened next…

After sitting with the Mashaba Young Female for quite some time we noticed a group of Southern Ground Hornbills quite a distance away. It wasn’t long before the Impala kill in the dead leadwood and the leopard was noticed by one curious birds and it flew in closer to come and investigate.


The Mashaba Young Female, who up until that point had been sleeping, was clearly unimpressed at this intrusion and rushed up to her kill as soon as the hornbill landed in the tree. Ground Hornbills are known to hunt small mammals and will also scavenge – but not to the same extent as vultures – and the thought of a Ground Hornbill challenging a leopard for her impala kill was highly unlikely.  This is what made the sighting so interesting because it appeared that the Hornbill was indeed trying to get to the kill and we wondered if it was driven more out of curiosity or hunger?


The Hornbill, realizing it was no match for a leopard, took flight on each occasion as the leopard advanced along the branch towards it. This process went on for about fifteen minutes as the hornbill kept on trying, in vain, to get to the kill.


On one occasion the Hornbill landed very close to the kill and this caused the Mashaba Young Female to rush quickly up into the upper branches of the dead leadwood to chase it away.


It was rather amusing watching this cat-and-mouse game, as each time the Hornbill was chased off a branch it promptly landed on another one on the other side of that same tree.


The Mashaba Young Female kept returning to her kill after each chase. In this case she took a flying leap to get from one branch to the other.


Eventually the Ground Hornbill moved off for good and this allowed the young leopard to take a rest after all the excitement. She couldn’t have chosen a better branch to settle on!

Ximungwe 5:3 Female
2015 - present

Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.

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Ximungwe 5:3 Female

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It was a morning that reinforced how we are all connected out here as we spoke about the knock-on effect that the rain had played on everything. It was a sighting that won’t ever be forgotten, as the combination of the odd-looking hornbill harassing a young leopard in a majestic dead leadwood is not one that’s likely to happen again anytime soon. Most of all, it was a constant reminder to always expect the unexpected and that even after years spent in the bush I am still in search of more “firsts”!

What “firsts” are you still looking for? We would love to hear from you!


Filed under Leopards Wildlife

Involved Leopards

Ximungwe 5:3 Female

Ximungwe 5:3 Female

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About the Author

James Souchon

Field Guide

James started his guiding career at the world-renowned Phinda Game Reserve, spending four years learning about and showing guests the wonder of the incredibly rich biodiversity that the Maputaland area of South Africa has to offer. Having always wanted to guide in the ...

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on Leopard Chases Ground Hornbill From Kill

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Marinda Drake

Wow! A fantastic and lucky sighting. Wonderful images. Love the last one of the leopard “draped” over the branch. Would love to see a pangolin, aardvark and caracal for the first time. (Can only hope and dream.)

Darlene Knott

Wow, what a day! And fabulous photos! What firsts am I still looking for—a pangolin for sure! An aardvark maybe? Even the sightings I have already have are fine with me! I love to watch animals interacting, that is probably my favorite thing.

Dina Petridis

an aardvark!!!!!!!

Carolyn Whitaker

What fun that experience must have been! Could the leopard have gotten lured up to limbs that would not have supported her weight?
I’d love to come back when the wild dogs are roaming Londolozi! Thanks for this blog about a very gutsy hornbill.

Ian Hall

A caracal.

Rich Laburn

I’m still waiting for a confrontation between two coalitions of male lions…

Callum Evans

Two of my favourite animals in one sighting, I love it!! Never heard of such an interaction between these two species before. On the subject of firsts, I still haven’t seen wild dog or cheetah and have no photographs of leopard. Need a bushveld trip to come up soon (haven’t gone in two years!)!

Eulalia Angédu

Beautiful text and pictures James.Good work!The systematic series of events are thrilling.

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