Leopards have to learn to hunt on their own. As cubs, their mother will leave them and go off hunting and, when old enough to eat meat, lead them to where she has stashed her kill. Eventually though, these cubs will be hunting prey as large as impala or even kudu, and to be proficient hunters, leopards need to gradually work their way up to prey this size. Practice is therefore key.
And practice can come in many forms. I have seen cubs led back to a kill and then attack it repeatedly as if killing it all over again. Pouncing and clawing at it.
Tree climbing and wrestling with a sibling or mother are also vital for improving strength and agility. This is all-important practice; however it’s the small animals like birds, squirrels, lizards and mice that are great for starters and are in my opinion the best prelude to moving onto hunting antelope. Probably the best one of all is the nimble scrub hare.
Recently James Tyrrell wrote a blog on the Nhlanguleni female’s cubs hunting a scrub hare.
We were lucky enough to recently witness the Nkoveni young female – who is roughly the same age as the aforementioned cubs – also show her developing hunting skills. As her and her mother slunk into a Guarrie thicket in fading evening light, francolins erupted and in the confusion a scrub hare was caught, squealing as the little leopard tossed it around, not killing it instantly. This went on for some time as the cub played with its food.
For many guests, seeing a kill is the holy grail of sightings. However, actually seeing one take place is sometimes not easy to watch. This was one of those cases as the hare continued to squeal. We discussed this behaviour and understood that this was important practice for the young leopard. By keeping the scrub hare alive and letting it go again, she gave herself several opportunities to practice recapturing it. On one such occasion of cat and mouse, the hare tried to escape toward our vehicle:
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
At one point tracker Judas says “This is the bush… sorry”. And he was absolutely right. This was nature in its rawest form. Energy transfer from one organism to another; in death comes new life in the form a leopard cub. And in this case, a young leopard learning to hunt refining its skill to one day provide for its own cubs.
A short while later we were approaching camp in the darkness when we bumped into three hyenas sniffing around next to the road. As we had them lit up in the spotlight a baby scrub hare hopped out of the bush next to them. The three hyenas went ballistic, tearing around this tiny hare trying to catch it. It was quite comical and we had to work hard to suppress a chuckle at the clumsy attempts of the hyenas fumbling around this small hare. Being so small it was not particularly fast, and at one point it looked as if hare was going to be a bite size snack to one hyena, but then for the second time that night a hare tried to dart under our vehicle to escape a predator. This time is was successful and shot under our Land Rover and disappeared. The hyenas lost interest pretty quickly and this hare was spared.
It had been an eventful afternoon and it was great to end the drive with a good laugh at the hyenas. Spirits were high as we pulled into camp and made our way into the BOMA for dinner as one of the guests joked that we might be served rabbit pie after the day we’d had.
Filed under Wildlife
Amazing video! Awesome sighting. It is cruel to see but it is nature. We watched a lioness catch a warthog piglet once. Ran back to the other pride members with it. They tore it apart and it squeeled till it was dead.
Thanks, Rob! You ended the post with a nice laugh! The scrub hares do not have an easy life out there!
Seeing one’s first kill is a difficult thing to come to grips with. As days pass, one begins to understand the cycle.
Rob, what a great history lesson! Knowing that the scrub hare is not so easy to catch, even for a small leopard.
It is interesting that most guests long to see a “kill” and it’s probably tolerable at a distance but we recently saw a pack of wild dogs take down two warthogs within five meters of our vehicle and it was excessively brutal but fascinating to watch. In the bush one must always remember the Lion King’s mantra about the Circle of Life.
Practice makes perfect and for young predators, they have to begin with the smaller prey in order to hone their kill techniques. Your blog clearly explains the catch and release strategy, as the youngsters learn the ways to survive in adulthood.
While in Botswana, prior to my stay in Londolozi, we witnessed a young female leopard with a 2 day old impala clutched between her paws. It was alive and squirming to escape, but the leopard kept slapping it down. The sounds of panic from the fawn were heart wrenching but we knew it was the law of nature. We watched for a time and then the leopard finally dug deep into the fawn, stood up and walked with it further into the thick brush out of sight. There was silence in the rover for a while as each person processed what was seen. It was truly a Nat Geo moment!!
The video was fantastic…….thanks for another thought provoking blog.
Rob, You are right, the video is a little graphic, but the look you got from the leopard was incredible! Like “don’t even think about it!”