A remarkable scene unfolded here at Londolozi on the 22nd of March.
It was during morning game drive in the North, that the young Tutlwa male leopard was located while bringing down a full grown impala ram. The impala had only just taken it’s last breath when all of a sudden two females of the Tsalala pride arrived on the scene. The lionesses had been alerted by alarming impala from some distance away. They moved in slowly and cautiously, knowing that they may encounter another predator of sorts. The competitive behaviour between lions and leopard has been documented many times and is known to be extremely fierce when these big cats meet at close range.
An enigmatic female not often encountered, this leopard lives to the north of the Sand River.
The young leopard noticed the threat coming his way and swiftly made his way up the nearest Marula tree, with the two lionesses in hot pursuit. The lionesses stopped at the base of the tree and were glaring up and the snarling leopard. Unbelievably, the younger female then decided to follow the leopard up the tree and with two hefty bounds went up the vertical trunk and made it onto the lowest branch some 12 feet up!
From there she precariously regained her balance to plan for her next move. We did not think that she would go higher, but she did. The leopard was now growling and snarling furiously at the lioness only three feet away.
She could not get any closer on the smaller branches, and after some thoughtful planning turned on the branches to retreat. This was not easily achieved, as she did not have many choices in getting back down. Very clumsily she dropped down to the lower branch and from there almost fell down to the ground when attempting to climb down the vertical Marula trunk. The lioness then quickly joined the other female to feed on the impala carcass.
The leopard, who had narrowly escaped serious injury and possible death remained in the tree canopy and observed as the lions consumed his hard won meal.
As if this was not enough suspense, another well known individual arrived on the scene some minutes later. The Marthly male leopard, a dominant and territorial cat which had been mating the Tutlwa female had heard the commotion and came to investigate. After looking from a distance at the lioness’s on the stolen kill, he quickly picked up the scent of the young male leopard who was also one of his offspring. He tracked the young male down and knew that he was not a threat and would therefore not need to execute any force to assert himself. The Marthly male merely gave the young leopard a threatening look and then proudly scraped and scent marked the ground beneath the tree and casually left the area. The young Tutlwa male leopard was forced to spend the next twenty minutes in the tree before he decided to make a hasty descent and quickly vanished out of sight. He had certainly learnt a big lesson on this morning.
Astonishing, seeing this interaction of these big cats up close! Luckily there were no injuries, as can often happen.
We viewed the two lionesses as they finished their meal and then continued South on our drive. On the way we met the Marthly male leopard again and followed him further down to the Sand River before bidding him farewell.
With all of this action in mind we then slowly made our way to a lookout over the Manyeleti River and stopped for a break in the morning sunshine to reminisce what we had just witnessed. What a great way to start the day!
Written and Photographed by Lawrence Weitz
Filmed by David Crawford (Londolozi guest)