With the Anderson male now going through the final stages of the recovery process of his left eye, one would hope he would stay out of trouble for awhile. Instead, he was involved in a spat with his main rival – the Flat Rock male – and in the process, narrowly avoided meeting his death under the claws of the Tsalala Lioness. In fact both male leopards nearly got taken out by her.
Ranger Sean Zeederberg was there that day and takes us through the sighting:
Ranger Bruce Arnott had seen a leopard dragging a kill into the river the evening before but was unable to follow through the rocks, and lost sight of it. The next morning ranger Greg Pingo went back into the area, and after some very technical driving managed to get to the spot where the kill was, and there he found both the Flat Rock and Anderson male leopards, not too far from away from each other and growling constantly. Hearing about this sighting, I decided to take my guests there that afternoon, and driving into the river, we spotted some vultures sitting in a tree, which pointed out where the kill was from a long way off. As we arrived, we were surprised to find not the leopards but the lone Tsalala lioness feeding on the carcass, which she had clearly robbed from the two males. We watched her feed for awhile and then heard some growling coming from not too far upstream. We presumed it was the leopards, so we sat and waited to see what would happen.
Sure enough, after about 15 minutes the Flat Rock male appeared and began moving closer to where the lioness was. I didn’t want to move the vehicle, as any sound might have impacted the leopard’s ability to maybe hear the lioness feeding. Our hearts were pounding as he approached, and he must have been within a metre of her before she came at him. Leopards have lightning reflexes, and it was only this that saved him as he immediately twisted to the side, ducking her paws and running for his life. He escaped unscathed and the lioness simply stood there, breathing heavily.
Not wanting to be too close in case the Anderson male also returned to the site of the carcass, I reversed the car, and none too soon, for just as the lioness lay down to rest, the Anderson male came through the reeds.
The video below shows what happened:
Leopards have incredible agility, and their instant reflexes, acceleration and ability to twist themselves out of harm’s way saved both the Anderson and Flat Rock males from being the next in a series of leopards that have been killed by lions on or around Londolozi in the last couple of years.
A leopard who took advantage of the death of the 4:4 male in 2016 to grab territory to the west of the Londolozi camps.
Unofficially the biggest leopard in the Sabi Sands, the Anderson male is an absolutely enormous individual in north western Londolozi.
I know many people see how big the Anderson male is and assume that he can take on a lioness, but he can’t, so let’s lay that to rest. One-on-one he would be no match for an adult lion as he would simply be overwhelmed and out-muscled. But his size most likely counted in his favour here, as he would be a slightly more difficult prospect to tackle than, say, the Nkoveni female, who is probably less than half his size. The moment’s hesitation on the part of the Tsalala female that the Anderson male’s bulk may have bought him could have been the difference between life and death. One can see in the slow-motion section of the video how the lioness instinctively ducks as she anticipates a swipe from the leopard. He rears up and spreads his paws wide, ostensibly to slash at her, but mainly to make himself look as big as possible. Luckily his tactic worked, as one can clearly see how the lioness shies away at the crucial moment.
Sean picks up the story again:
The leopards had both moved off and we could hear them growling at each other once more, their respective brushes with death apparently not having fazed them. Since the lioness was lying in the reedbed and we couldn’t really see her, we decided it would be a better option to follow the two leopards, who would growl at each other, presenting laterally to show each other how big they both were, then lie down again before repeating the whole procedure. They were out on the rocks for some of the sighting, and to have two big males side by side like that was spectacular!
Leopards in general are conflict averse. Being solitary animals they are hesitant to engage in physical confrontations unless absolutely necessary, as an injury that impacts their hunting abilities may prove fatal. Given the close call that both males had had only minutes before, I imagine a show of bravado was all they were prepared to commit to that afternoon. The Sand River has long acted as the grey area between the territories of these two rivals, and the whole interaction was yet another incident between them (most of which we never see), in which they were simply reestablishing where that line separating their respective territories lies…
Video filmed by Tracker Joy Mathebula