Experience is the name of the game in the bush, and for the predators in particular, there is no better way to learn than watching their mothers. The Mashaba female leopard, while still young, is by now an expert huntress. The area she inhabits sees both the Sparta Pride and Tsalala lionesses passing through, to say nothing of the Majingilane coalition. Hyenas as well are never far away, on the prowl for an easy meal. Such competition is rife in the Sabi Sands, and leopards like the Mashaba female will generally have to hoist their kills to avoid them being robbed.
Recently, as discussed in a recent blog post, the hyena numbers in the area have gone down, and leopards can get away with not hoisting every kill.
Who knows when the hyena numbers will increase? but in the meantime it is a vital skill to try and teach a youngster, as witnessed in a recent sighting of the Mashaba female and her cub.
The two leopards had been very lucky; the kill had been on the ground for over 24hrs without being robbed by marauding hyenas. Now a far lighter carcass (much of the meat had been consumed), the Mashaba female had no trouble hoisting it into the boughs of a tree, but the hoist was far from expertly conducted. The carcass of the impala was suspended by a single leg, all the weight dangling precariously down.
If the stakes are high and a leopard cub looks like it may drop the kill when moving in to feed, the mother will often intervene, even displaying agression towards her offspring, often repositioning the carcass in order to lodge it more firmly in the branches. In this instance, however, there were no hyenas prowling down below and both leopards had fed adequately, hence the opportunity for some instruction from the mother leopard.
Shortly after hoisting, and without staying up in the tree to feed, the Mashaba female allowed the 9-month old female cub the freedom to move around the carcass, pawing at it from various angles until she shifted the balance a bit too far and the remains of the impala slipped to the ground.
The mother did not re-hoist.
What was witnessed here was surely a lesson in the fine line between keeping a meal and losing it to rival predators. Leopards have to constantly shift carcasses around the branches they are wedged in. As more and more meat is consumed, the weights and pressures on the kill change, as does the balancing point. Without any apparent risk to the kill (no other predators in the vicinity), the Mashaba female was able to demonstrate to her cub how easy it is to let a hard-earned meal slip to the ground.
Written by: James Tyrrell
Filmed by: Don Heyneke
Photographed by: Rich Laburn and Trevor McCall-Peat