As we approached a herd of 80+ African Buffalo, tracker Bennet Mathonsi shouted, “Leopard! Leopard!”.
Next to the buffalo? Surely not…
He was right though. A young male leopard was a mere 10 metres from our game viewer and only about 30 metres from the front line of the herd, most of which were still lying down from their night of rest. The leopard dropped into its shoulders, disappearing into the long grass, and began a stealthy approach on the buffalo herd. It was trying to hunt!
A bit ambitious, one might say?
We thought so too. A leopard of this size, probably weighing in at around 40-50 kg is no match for an adult buffalo of 700-800 kg. It was most likely after a calf, of which we spotted only one out of the herd of 80+ adults. The young leopard blew its cover as it moved in too fast. Four or five massive buffalos trotted straight towards the leopard to assess the threat. The young male realised the situation it had just walked into was imminently hazardous to its health, and made a very hasty retreat to a fallen over knobthorn tree; the only one for quite some distance in the open grasslands. Luckily for the leopard, the tree was just above head height for the buffalos, allowing for a relatively safe place of refuge.
Not for long though, as soon the leopard was surrounded by about 40 sets of horns, all slashing up and down trying to reach it.
He scuttled to the highest branches, out of reach of the large herd, and began to wait it out. After about half an hour, a few buffalo bulls were still milling about under the spotted cat, while the bulk of the herd was starting to lose interest.
The leopard seemed to become a bit impatient, or curious; one can’t be sure. Bravely (or foolishly), it started to reach down with its front paw, towards one particular bull that was trying to sniff at it. This brought back memories of when our domestic cat at home would jump onto an elevated platform to get away from the house dog, and swat at its face with outstretched claws to try and drive it away. Not quite the same size of animals but similar behaviour from the cat!
Amazingly, as the buffalo reached as high as it could to sniff the leopard, the leopard pulled its paw back and leant forward. The faces of the buffalo and leopard drew closer and closer until their noses actually touched! We couldn’t believe our eyes… Both animals seemed a bit startled and pulled away from each other hastily.
Eventually the leopard decided to take a gap. It ran down to the lower part of the tree, hissed at the herd and jumped away from them, sprinting into the cover of the long grass unscathed.
This young male will most likely think twice before attempting to hunt buffalo again. At Londolozi, adult male leopards have successfully killed buffalo calves amongst a herd in the past. However, adult lions have been killed when trying to pick buffalo out of a herd, which highlights the ability and willingness of buffalo to defend their youngsters from these predators.
Video filmed by Bennet Mathonsi