Humans have historically differentiated ourselves from the “lesser creatures” through our ability to make and use tools, which has apparently put us on a higher plane of intelligence. However, research over the past couple of decades has revealed tool-use in multiple other species, from crows to elephants, with the great apes being the archetypal tool-users in the non-human animal kingdom.
Nowhere have I read though that a leopard has been recorded as using a tool. I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, I’m just saying I haven’t heard of it.
Yet to all intents and purposes, it seems that that is exactly what the Flat Rock male leopard was doing a few days ago; using a warthog jawbone as a tool to gain better access to the carcass of the self-same warthog.
Was he actually making use of a tool or did happenstance just make it appear that way?
Ranger Guy Brunskill, who filmed the event, takes us through the sighting:
“When we got back from morning drive there was a lot of chatter amongst some of the rangers, as they had just watched the Flat rock male leopard stalk and kill a warthog. As one can imagine they were extremely excited about what they had just watched. A kill, although sometimes traumatic, is possibly one of the most exciting things to see, but what is on par with that is when you see behaviour of an animal which no other guide has seen before.
Later that same afternoon my guests and I set off to go and see what remained of the warthog kill, as the guests had never seen a male leopard before and really wanted to take this opportunity to see how much bigger they are than the females. There was still a fair amount left of the kill so we sat there watching as the leopard manoeuvred it into different positions to access different parts of it more easily. What happened next was something neither I nor tracker Shadrack Mkhabela had ever seen.
The male started tugging at what seemed to be the top jaw bone while feeding. It looked like he was trying to pull it out of the skin.
After a few minutes of eating the meat around the nose he had successfully pulled the top jawbone out of the skin, and then proceeded to use the bone to try and open up the kill further! We will never know what thought process this involved on the leopard’s part, but seeing something we’d never even heard of as being recorded before was pretty special!”
Asking around amongst the rest of the guiding and tracking team, it seems that no one else has witnessed anything like this on Londolozi, which is one of the best places to view leopards in the world. The tracking team in particular, who boast a couple of hundred years of experience between them, came up with a blank when trying to recall something similar.
Was this leopard legitimately using a tool? Or do we just want to believe that he was? I don’t think anyone would suggest that he’s about to compete with a chimpanzee for top honours in the problem solving department, but behaviour like this is still remarkable.
We’d love to hear if anyone has seen or heard of behaviour like this in leopards or other big cats.
Please leave questions or thoughts in the comments section below.
Filmed and Photographed by Ranger Guy Brunskill