Note: The Kaxane male has sadly since succumbed to old age and passed away. This post was written roughly a week before his death. We will run a tribute post to him on the blog soon.
If a male leopard makes it to old age, it is more than likely he will spend his latter years eking out a less glamorous existence than he did in his prime. He is unlikely to be territorial in his dotage, and rapidly advancing muscle deterioration means that he won’t be able to hold territory, and will inevitably become a nomad.
Along with a decline in physicality comes a correlated decline in hunting prowess, and old leopards tend to operate very much on a take-what-they-can-get basis. Creatures that wouldn’t normally be high on a leopard’s menu suddenly assume gourmet status, as the fleet-footed impalas that once formed the staple of the cat’s diet become almost impossible to catch.
Porcupines are one such animal. Their long, sharp quills make them a formidable prey species, and there are many cases of both leopards and lions dying after getting a porcupine hunt wrong. A quill to the eye can mean instant blindness, and a number of quills embedded in the skin can lead to potentially fatal infection.
No one saw the Kashane male actually catch the porcupine, but he was found in the morning with part of the carcass hoisted in a Tamboti tree that was growing out of the side of a large termite mound. Seldom in the bush is it as easy to paint the picture of what had happened as it was in this instance. At the base of the Tamboti tree the bark had been completely chewed off. Tambotis are big favourites of porcupines, and it was clear to everyone that the porcupine had been engrossed in its bark meal when the leopard happened along. We aren’t sure which direction the leopard came from, but a good bet would be over the top of the mound, where his approach would have been hidden.
A leopard’s – or any predator’s for that matter – best tactic when trying to avoid a porcupine’s potentially lethal quills is to flip it on its back to attack the soft and exposed underbelly. To counter this a porcupine will try and face rear-on to its would-be attacker, rattling its quills in intimidation and occasionally rushing backwards at it/them in an attempt to stab. Have a look at this incredible video filmed by Londolozi Ranger Lucien Beaumont of one porcupine’s encounter with the Mhangeni pride:
That porcupine got away unscathed, but the one the Kaxane male came across wasn’t so lucky. Porcupines are the world’s seconds largest rodent, so if a leopard can somehow get past their wall of quills, it’s in for a good meal. A pile of quills on top of the termite mound told of where the Kaxane male had methodically plucked his prey, and a long intestine strand adorning the Tamboti tree’s branches showed where the leopard had dragged the carcass up out of reach of hyenas. It’s ironic that the porcupine came to the Tamboti tree for a meal, then ended up being the meal.
The Kaxane male has since been seen spending time in the drainage system to the west of the Londolozi airstrip. There is permanent water there and many nyala and bushbuck; even an ageing leopard would be able to catch a calf unaware.
Within a few days of the sighting with the porcupine carcass, the leopard again took centre stage in a confrontation with the Nkoveni female. Check back in early next month for what happened in that sighting…