This week saw a number of interesting happenings on the leopard front. The Tutlwa Female was seen hunting and killing an impala lamb and the Vomba Female keeps returning to the same inaccessible area in the Sand River, reinforcing our suspicions that she may have cubs. The sighting of the week, however had to go to the Maxabene Brothers who, on the 25th December no less, seemed to confirm the view of some that Christmas is, in fact, nothing but a scheduled family argument! Being such a unique interaction, we decided to dedicate the entire post to just this sighting. Enjoy…
We had stopped to view a bird when our tracker, Lucky, calmly got off from his seat and moved to the back of the vehicle. His favorite joke is to tell guests that he has seen a snake and he is too scared to be sitting up front-at which time I know he has spotted a leopard and he is now waiting to see who will spot it next! Sure enough the Maxabene 3:2 Young Male was perched on a termite mound nearby, scanning the area for potential prey.
After moving termite mounds for a different view, he settled down to groom himself.
Not too far away another ranger and tracker team, Melvin and Milton, had been tracking a young male leopard-when they heard we had found the Maxabene 3:2 Young Male they assumed it had been his tracks they were following. On driving to meet us, however, they found the Maxabene 3:3 Young Male, his brother, about 200m away. He was stalking a Common Reedbuck (which in the Sabi Sand area is anything but common!) that was lying hidden in long grass. He stalked slowly for about forty minutes before the reedbuck sensed something was up and bolted-and just in time as well as they were no more than ten meters apart. Here he looks on as his potential meal heads for the horizon.
After missing the reedbuck, the 3:3 Young Male climbed the nearest termite mound to get a view of the surroundings, having been stalking in the long grass for some time. It was at this point that he was spotted by his brother, the 3:2 Young Male. If you look in the top left corner of the photo, you can just make out his blurred shape at the top of another termite mound in the distance
The 3:2 Young Male crouches as low as possible, ears flattened, as his brother, unaware of his presence at this stage, approaches.
And still, just meters apart, the 3:3 Young Male in the foreground has no idea his brother is watching.
Finally the 3:3 Young Male spots his brother and for a moment they both freeze, ears flattened and ready to pounce
Suddenly, the 3:2 Young Male, who has the advantage of higher ground, launches himself at his brother. In a move designed to protect the spine from any bites, as well as allow the free movement of paws for defense, the 3:3 Young Male flips on his back and claws his brother in the belly.
The actual clash was over in a split second, and the two brothers resorted to the more usual form of leopard confrontation-a large amount of close-quarter growling, scent marking and frothing at the mouth! They tend to try and avoid serious violent confrontation as, being solitary animals, any injury which impaired their ability to hunt could prove fatal.
After claiming the top of the mound from his brother, the 3:3 Young Male looks on as a hyaena, attracted by the sound of the fighting leopard, sniffs around to see if they had perhaps been fighting over a carcass. Whether claiming the top of the mound, whilst his brother lay in the long grass below, was a sign of victory or not, I am not sure. If so, it is interesting, as growing up it always seemed as if the 3:2 Young Male had been more dominant.
The hyaena gets a little close for comfort and is told in no uncertain terms to back off. The hyaena did eventually move off, but barely acknowledged the presence of the leopard, paying no attention to the growls and snarls directed at him.
After the dust had settled, the 3:3 Young Male, from his outpost on the mound, kept a wary eye on both his brother and the lurking hyaena. Neither of the leopard seemed to have been injured in any way and by the afternoon drive had gone their separate ways. A truly unique interaction between two brothers who are every day getting closer to trying to establish themselves as a dominant presence on Londolozi.