Two of the Majingilane coalition were sleeping on Fluffies Clearing. It was a relatively cool evening, so we expected a bit of movement from them early on, around sunset. On hot summer’s nights they will sometimes only get active at 10 or 11pm, but the weather on this particular evening was in our favour.
Ranger Jess Boon was moving into the clearing to sit and watch as the Dark-maned and Hip-Scar males got going when a flurry of activity off to the right of her vehicle caught her eye and that of tracker Jeffrey Mhlongo. Impala alarm calls began ringing out, and a flash of a gold coat caused Jess to hit the brakes as the Mashaba female leopard suddenly emerged from the long grass with a freshly caught impala lamb clamped firmly between her jaws.
The leopard was moving quickly in the direction of a large marula tree towards the crest of the hill, clearly aware of the lion threat nearby. She was right to hurry her kill to safety, as hot on her heels came the two male lions, roused by the alarm calls of the impala and sensing the chance of an easy meal.
Mashaba hoisted the impala lamb into the marula with consumate ease. Seeing a leopard hoist a kill into a tree is a rare privilege, but what happened next was the last thing that the rangers, trackers and guests there that evening expected.
The Dark-maned majingilane sniffed around the base of the tree for a few moments, glanced upwards, and then launched himself up the trunk, his enormous claws biting deep into the bark as he hauled his massive bulk up to the fork of the marula. The leopard meanwhile, also not expecting this assault, scampered up to the very thinnest branches that could hold her weight, taking her kill with her and staying out of reach of the lion.
He suddenly seemed to regret his decision, as he very gingerly began to look for a way down, which unfortunately for him was a very steep and direct one.
A rather awkward descent and a tumble onto his head had him sheepishly moving off down the hill after his brother, denied a free meal.
Today if one drives past the same marula, the claw marks of the lion are still gouged into the trunk, a reminder of what will certainly prove to be one of the more incredible sightings of 2013!
Written by James Tyrrell
Filmed by Carrie Skillen