One cold morning a little while ago, I commented to James Tyrrell that I would love to see something completely crazy to write about for my next blog. A sighting that stood out so much, I didn’t even have to blink before knowing what the topic would be. I suppose this was a bit of a cheek seeing as how every day is fairly remarkable out here, but I was about to realise that there was no harm in asking because apparently sometimes what you want is exactly what you receive.
The sighting I speak of was a titanic meeting between two of Londolozi’s dominant male leopards, the Inyathini and Piva males.
We have seen these two males together on quite a few occasions recently but it has never been more than calling and exaggerated scent marking with a lot of agitation and salivation. Basically, it’s been a case of all show and no action. This often happens with these cats as they are very injury averse. Any injury lessens their ability to hunt or protect themselves, which could be fatal for a solitary predator. On this fateful day though, James and I had a visitor called Sam with us and having never actually seen a leopard before this morning, he seemed to bring with him a heap of beginner’s luck.
When we got to the sighting, both males were settled down, lying just ten or so meters apart. The Piva male was flat on his side, back turned to his opponent but still growling. He seemed so laid back that we joked that the growls could even have been confused with loud snores. The Inyathini male was sitting with his head up, but it seemed both were taking an agreed upon moment of rest.
Just when we began to think that maybe the heat was getting to them and that they were going to settle down permanently, they got up and started moving together, parallel to one another. Soon they were jogging and before we knew it, they had launched themselves at each other and met in mid-air as a ball of fury, rolling through the air and hitting the ground in this same tucked position, kicking up the wintery dust in a plume around them.
I had seen video clips of this behaviour before but this was the first time both James and I had witnessed leopards actually physically mauling one another. They attempt to tear into each other by gripping their opponent with their front legs and ripping with their back legs. Claws and teeth become exposed and there is a barrage of sounds that go with it too. Although the attack only lasted a few seconds, it looked to me as though it was happening in slow motion as they spiralled through the air. The angle that we saw it from meant the leopards were backlit and although this may sound completely incongruous, there was something about the moment that was strangely beautiful; a sort of ferocious dance.
Below is another video clip captured at Londolozi of two female leopards fighting, a few years ago. Here they hang onto each other for longer and you get a clearer understanding of how they try to use their back legs to shred their opponent, whilst holding on with the fore legs.
From the time we spent with these leopards, it seemed the Piva male was initiating each attack and the Inyathini male was the one who sustained the only real injury; a gash down his back leg. Eventually after another bout of rest, the two males got up and began to walk south into an area that was too dense for the vehicles to follow. Rangers that looked for the males in the afternoon came up empty handed and from the tracks it became apparent that the two had split up, with the Piva male heading east and the Inyathini male going west.
The injuries on the Inyathini male, although appearing serious to us, were superficial enough and have not hampered his hunting or territorial movements subsequently. I am sure that this is one of many fights to come as these two leopards attempt to push the limits of their boundaries and establish themselves as the most dominant males of the south. Being such equally-matched opponents, rangers and trackers continue to surmise who the likely winner will be and it appears that once more, we will just have to wait and see what the next instalment of the saga brings.
Photographs by Londolozi Guest, Lory Wallach
Video by Londolozi Guests, Clark and Jessica Wilkes