The Dudley Riverbank Female Leopard managed to use patience, anticipation, speed and agility to kill a large male Impala. This sighting in itself was incredible, but even this feat was not enough to steal the show. It was her daughter, her female cub, that managed to get us all on the edge of our seats…
In the nearby Marula tree two squirrels had got entangled and were involved in a vicious fight between themselves. They chased each other from limb to limb, jumping, hoping and skipping. All this commotion was just too interesting for the little cub to ignore. Her eyes flittered towards the tree top and she locked in on her target.Leaving the impala carcass she moved towards the tree. It was adorable to watch her stalk: body close to the ground and ears dropped low. She had watched her mom do this before! She inched forward trying to avoid detection. The squirrels saw her easily, but the jostle for a nesting site kept them focused in battle.
In one of the most phenomenal bits of animal behaviour that I have ever witnessed, a squirrel scrambled into a cavity, bit into the body of an innocent baby squirrel and pulled it out. She threw the helpless baby out of the tree and we watched in disbelief as this little body plummeted to the ground. In a surreal case of infanticide the one squirrel was attempting to wipe out the other family of squirrels that used the tree.
The squeaking was tear-jerking. The baby hit the ground hard, but did not die on impact. It was just so unexpected to witness such hostility by such a small creature. A creature normally associated with images of fluffy toys and cuteness. Almost immediately, the adult squirrel was down the tree and upon the youngster; she had moved in to deliver the killer blow. The leopard cub readied herself in the bush nearby. This was the moment she had been waiting for. Before the squirrel could inflict any further damage, the leopard was upon the squirrels. In an acrobatic display the adult squirrel negotiated through the paws of the cub; twisting and turning and running for safety in the towering tree. In one swift leap the leopard cub was after her and was in the crown of the marula.
An impressive, and very humorous cat and mouse game endured. The cub was fast, but not nearly as brave or agile as the squirrel. Gravity was acting against the leopard in the melee. Bodies were bounding through the tree. Cars of guests sat entranced below at the spectacle taking place in front of their very eyes.
In a last ditch attempt to save it’s own life, the squirrel flung itself out of the tree, flying through the air. Sensibly the leopard did not follow suite, but rather used the more traditional route down. In classic irony, the second the leopard hit terra firma the adult squirrel ran back up the same tree it had just catapulted it self out of. The leopard cub paused for a split second, deciding whether or not to follow. In this moment of silence, the poor injured baby squirrel made a near inaudible squeak of terror. The leopard cub heard it and within seconds had sniffed out the innocent bystander.
We may just have watched the Dudley Riverbank Female’s cub make her first kill. Unsure of herself, and her own abilities the leopard cub bit the squirrel and then gently picked it up by the scruff of the neck. She picked it up in the same way that she would have been picked up by her mother. With a huge sense of achievment she carried the lifeless baby squirrel across the clearing. In a very moving, and fitting end to the scene, she dropped her prize at the paws of her proud mother. It was an incredible hour and a half!
Written and photographed by Adam Bannister