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!

Nweti male large herd PT

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.

Nweti Male BUffalo 1 PT

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!

Nweti Male leopard PT

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.

Nweti male leopard buffalo PT

The incredible moment when two of Africa’s iconic species and rivals, actually touch each other nose to nose.

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.

Mg 0050edited

Spotting a gap in the herd, the leopard makes a dash down the tree trunk.

Mg 0056edited

A quick snarl at the buffalo to tell them to keep their distance.

Mg 0070edited

And a leap to safety as a gap opens up. One can see all the oxpeckers erupting off the buffalo behind the trunk, as the herd was obviously started by the leopard’s sudden movements.

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

About the Author

Pete Thorpe

Field Guide

Right from his very first bush trip at the age of four, Pete was always enthralled by this environment. Having grown up in the Middle East, Pete’s home-away-from-home has always been a bungalow in the Greater Kruger National Park, where his family had ...

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46 Comments

on Leopard Kisses Buffalo: Unbelievable!

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Marinda Drake

Wow! This is one of those once in a life time sightings. We were fortunate to see the Makhotini male with a buffalo calf kill hoisted in a tree. Lions are oppertunistic, the same can probably be said of leopards. Awesome video Bennet.

Pete Thorpe

Hi Marinda. Wow, that is a very unusual sighting! Yes, you are correct – leopards are very opportunistic and have been known to prey upon 30+ different species. It will be interesting to see whether this young male (the Nweti male) tries his luck with buffalo again in the future.

Al Kaiser

Pwte, I thought I had seen just about everything at Londoz. Awesome pictures!!

Pete Thorpe

Hi Al! Haha, I think we can both agree by this sighting that no matter how long one has been out here for, there is always something more to see! All the best from us all here.

Rich Laburn

Unbelievable sighting. quite incredible!!

Pete Thorpe

Rather unexpected to say the least, Rich!

Callum Evans

The sighting of a lifetime and definetely some unique photos there!!! That is definetely a once-in-a-blue-moon encounter!!

Callum Evans

It is not unusual for adult male leopards to go after buffalo calves, as you mentioned, but the young males always seem to make mistakes and end up getting treed by buffalo (based on sightings I’ve read about). Always fascinating to read about stuff like this, I hope I’ll get to experience something like that someday!

Pete Thorpe

It was definitely unexpected to see the leopard stalking the herd in the long grass… But as you say, they will take a chance every now and then. I hope for your sake you will get to experience this in person, Callum!

Callum Evans

Young male leopards always test their limits. I’ve heard of one such leopard in Mala Mala who took down an adult female kudu and a warthog boar (which took him 25 minutes to kill and he lost it to 9 lions)! Thank you Pete, I appreciate the vote of confidence there!

Darlene Knott

Wow, how exciting and heart thumping of a sighting this was! That was either one brave leopard or one stupid leopard or maybe a combination thereof. 😂 Wonderful photos and a fantastic video of the sighting. I thought this might be an April Fool’s joke. Delighted to see it was a true story! Thanks for sharing, Pete!

Pete Thorpe

Hi Darlene. Thanks for your comments. All credit goes to the animals for putting on the show! We made sure we didn’t post this on April Fool’s day as it’s unusual enough as it is! Imagine the explaining we would have had to deal with… It’s an absolute pleasure. Have a great week

Ian Hall

Amazing and it wasn’t 1st April and you had the photos. Big herbivores with horns or tusks can be aggressive towards predators and if that happens the predator needs to vacate the situation – quickly

Pete Thorpe

Hi Ian.
And a quick retreat the young leopard made indeed. It’s hard to capture the agility and speed of these beautiful cats! Hopefully the pictures and Bennet’s video give everyone a small snippet of what we were so lucky to observe.

Denise Vouri

This was unbelievable Pete! I’ve never seen or heard about an encounter like this one. Both the photos and video illustrate the tenacity of both species. Thus sighting was priceless. Sure hope your guests enjoyed the experience and have some souvenir photos.

Pete Thorpe

Hi Denise.
It is very unusual for leopards to hunt buffalo, as they have so many easier and safer options. But nonetheless, here we have it! Have a look at this link to read about a successful hunt on buffalo from a few years ago: http://blog.londolozi.com/2014/03/25/leopard-kills-buffalo/ . I appreciate the comment, thanks!

Joanne Wadsworth

I doubt this will happen again, but what a wonderful moment to see and capture on video! Curiosity to the maximum.
That nose to nose image should be framed. I’m certain this young leopard learned a life lesson. And I must say he was extremely fortunate to find a taller limb close by! The outcome could have been far different.

Pete Thorpe

Hi Joanne.
I were surprised that the taller, smaller branches of the tree held the weight of the leopard. I was quite nervous it would turn for the worse at one point, but luckily all was well. Best, Peter

Vicky

What an amazing. wonderful siting. Definitely right place, right time.

Pete Thorpe

Hi Vicky.
100% right place at the right time! If we had been there 30 minutes later we would have had no idea of the action that had just unfolded…

Peggy Fox

Ben and Pete, what a fantastic sighting! And the pics and video are excellent. Absolutely love the nose-to-nose shot. Thank you!

Pete Thorpe

Hi Peggy.
Great to hear from you! Thank you. Yes it was a real treat! Hope you are both well. Regards from both Ben and I.

Michael & Terri Klauber

Pete, The scene you witnessed is amazing! We think it was a cat’s inquisitive nature that brought them together like that!

Pete Thorpe

Hi Michael and Terri.
Yes, agreed – it was most likely the inquisitive nature that brought them to touch together. The leopard was stuck there for some time and at one point tried to lie down with his leg and tail hanging over the branches. The buffalo actually reached up and licked his leg, forcing him to jump up quite quickly! Unfortunately no photos or videos to prove this one though…

John Marlatt

Congratulations to both you and Ben on a terrific sighting and story. Plus the video was amazing. Peggy and I both loved it. It made us pitch a few more coins into the Londolozi cookie jar…

Pete Thorpe

Hi John,
We will have to try our best to keep you entertained via the blog so that your cookie jar fills up quickly! Thanks for the comments. All the best from the two of us.

Susan Strauss

Speechless.

Pete Thorpe

As were we, Susan!

Nickolette Karabush

Wow!! Absolutely amazing!

Pete Thorpe

Thanks Nickolette! It really was.

Mauricia Neeley

what a once in a lifetime sighting for all that witnessed this.

Pete Thorpe

I think we will all agree with you there, Mauricia! Incredible…

Laura Eberly

Unbelievable!! I guess young boys will be boys… thank heavens he is safe!

Pete Thorpe

Hi Laura,
Indeed, boys will be boys. There was an element of humour in this sighting! Luckily he got away completely unscathed. Lesson learned maybe?

Mary Beth Wheeler

An absolutely incredible sighting! Who was this foolish young male with tons of hutzpah?!

James Tyrrell

Hi Mary Beth,
He is known as the Nweti male; son of the Hlaba’nkunzi female in the west and a relative newcomer to Londolozi (I think just over 2 years old.)
Best regards

Mary Beth Wheeler

Oh my goodness! I think he must have been the cub we saw with Hlabunkunzi (sp?) on Singita last April!

Mj Bradley

What a fabulous sighting! Do you happen to know who he is? There are a number of unknown young males in the Sabi Sands lately.

Pete Thorpe

Hi Mj,
He is the Nweti male, son of the Hlaba’nkunzi female from the west. He is most likely still nomadic at this age, hence us having seen very little of him. Definitely a first for me.

Ryan James

Made my day. What a sighting!

Pete Thorpe

Hi Ryan,
I’m glad to hear it! Have a great week.

Malavika Gupta

What an incredible sighting that must have been! Truly the type of thing that most likely no one will witness again! Beautiful photos too! A lot of people say no two days are ever the same at work. But in the life of a Ranger, that expression holds truer than ever.

Pete Thorpe

I don’t think Bennet or I will ever witness that again… As you say, Malavika, the excitement of the unknown is definitely what keeps us out there every day!

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