Leopards will eat pretty much anything they can get hold of. They will hunt and catch a wide range of species, and are also not averse to eating carrion, as long as it’s not too old. At Londolozi alone, the leopards have been recorded catching and killing over 30 different types of prey, from the smallest rodents and birds right up to young giraffes that probably weigh around 100kg, and even bigger adult antelopes like Nyalas and Kudus.
I have personally seen the Nkoveni female pounce on a Kurrichane Buttonquail (a tiny bird weighing about 40 grams) and swallow it in a single gulp, spitting out some feathers afterwards, and of course who can forget the phenomenal camera trap photograph of the Ndzanzeni young male taking down an nyala cow a few weeks ago.
Opportunism is the name of the game for these spotted cats, and a missed opportunity usually equates to an empty belly. A string of missed opportunities can result in declining condition, and as a worst-case scenario, death.
Return guest to Londolozi Jo-Lynne Jones recently watched the young Ximungwe female take just such an opportunity, and it was only by a hair’s breadth that her intended victim got away with its life.
Jo-Lynne takes up the story:
This was our fourth trip to Londolozi; our first was back in 2008. We only stayed for 5 days the first time, then the next was 9, then 14 on the third. This trip is only 7 days sadly, but we’re definitely coming back for two weeks next time.
The Ximungwe female leopard had been found early in the morning, and the viewing became superb as she moved out into an open space. Suddenly she crouched, showing definite interest in something close by. We weren’t sure what it was. Then all hell broke loose as you’ll be able to see in the photographs as the leopard went leaping after a Crested Francolin, which thanks to lightning reflexes and a huge amount of luck, managed to escape with only its feathers ruffled, and a few of them drifting down to the ground.
Although all leopards are almost by the definition of their species opportunistic, it tends to be the younger individuals that go for smaller prey animals like francolins or other birds. At still only 3 years of age, the Ximungwe female continues to hone her hunting skills, and is light enough on her feet still to be able to consider taking on difficult food to catch like francolins. Large male leopards for example, would be far less likely to have a crack, as their extra weight (the Inyathini male’s weight for instance is probably twice that of the Ximungwe female) denies them the litheness that their young female counterparts possess.
We asked Jo-Lynne how she felt about the sighting:
It was amazing to have been able to photograph the entire sequence like this. It’s about being in the right place at the right time, but the lesson here was that had we not stopped to look at a bird initially, we never would have found the leopard. The little things most certainly count!
I can’t even describe how I felt afterwards; I was blown away by the sighting. All those things you dream about as a photographer… when everything goes right, it’s simply beautiful.
We’re pretty sure the Francolin would agree…