A few months ago, my wife and I were on an afternoon safari with Grant Rodewijk and Jerry Hambama. It was getting dark and we were heading back when Jerry suddenly said, “Leopard!”. He had been tracking a mother and two cubs when he suddenly raised a finger to Grant who quickly slowed the vehicle down. Jerry had spotted the Nhlanguleni Female on the ground at the base of a tree and upon further inspection Grant spotted a young impala draped over a limb high in the tree. The mother was calling her cubs and resting from having hauled the carcass up into the branches.
Well it didn’t take long for one of the cubs to spot the impala and begin to scramble up the tree to begin feasting before the others. Meanwhile the second cub, who had been on the ground at the foot of the tree watching the first cub eat, decided it was her turn and quickly climbed the tree to where the impala was. At that point, the cubs both began pulling on the kill. About that time a hyena must have caught scent of the kill and arrived to wait beneath the tree for pieces of dinner to drop from above.
Before too long the over-anxious cubs, tearing at the impala, managed to lose control of it and it suddenly dropped to the ground. The hyena excitedly began dragging the carcass off into the brush. The mother leopard – who had been watching from the base of a nearby tree – rapidly climbed up and seemed noticeably agitated at the loss of a hard-fought meal for the three of them.
The cub who had tried to eat first and subsequently lost the entire meal, must have noticed that her mother was very unhappy with them. She came down from her tree and began to climb the tree that the mother was in. However, the mother leopard was still agitated and began flashing her teeth at the approaching cub. But the cub seemed determined to beg for forgiveness.
The cub even tried to rub heads and chuff with the mother, but she was not a happy camper. As the cub continued to press her case, the adult female turned and snarled and lunged at the young cub.
The cub quickly backed up but ran out of tree limb and lost her balance, clawing frantically the branch with all four paws. In the blink of an eye, she managed to contort herself around and grab the tree limb from below… upside down and five meters above the ground! She seemed stunned at her mother’s attitude as she continued to be snarled at, but quickly realized that her bigger problem was how to escape her immediate predicament.
Then she suddenly made a leap for the trunk of the tree and managed to avoid tumbling head over heels as she rapidly descended to the ground.
The mother, however, still seemed mad at the young cub and stayed up in the tree. As we watched the entire drama unfold, what seemed so spellbinding was the speed of the mother as she spun around and lunged at the cub while never losing her own balance on that limb.
As we drove off, we imagined that the mother was probably thinking that the cub need not return without food for the dinner table!