We had tracked the Mashaba female leopard the whole morning with no success. Although we were deep in the territory of the Tamboti female, the trackers were fairly confident which leopard had made the pug marks, as the Mashaba female’s tracks are slightly bigger and there is a unique indentation her back left foot makes which sets her apart.
It was clear to see that she was hunting, as there was no set direction or pattern to her movements; the tracks were zigzagging back and forth.
The tracks eventually led through the Maxabene riverbed, but with time running out that morning, we decided to head back to camp and have another crack it in the afternoon, as the tracks had been fairly fresh so we were confident she was still in the area.
Returning a few hours later, she was found by ranger Melvin Sambo not far from where we had seen the last tracks, and, just as the trail from the morning had indicated, she was zigzagging back and forth, clearly not on a territorial patrol but hunting.
As she climbed up the riverbank near a small link road, we looped ahead to wait for her, but coming out of the thicket line suddenly spotted two more spotted shapes that we presumed to be leopards, but turned out to be the young male cheetahs. They had made an impala kill and the Mashaba female was heading straight for them!
Unfortunately for the cheetahs, they were doomed to lose their kill from the moment the leopard smelled it. Two young males like them were never going to try and defend it from a much more powerful leopard at grave risk to themselves. They backed off to about 30 metres while the Mashaba female grabbed the impala and dragged it back to the Maxabene riverbed.
Inter-predator rivalry is rife in Africa’s major game parks. There tends to be a strict hierarchy though, with cheetahs occupying the bottom rung. Being so specially adapted for speed, they are unable to defend kills against bigger predators, and for two young males like this, an incident like this will most likely be just one in a long line of many.