We are out on an early morning drive. I stop the vehicle to watch the first herd of impalas we see. As I start to say something like, ‘Look how they can make their hairs prick up in the cold’, Rob and I hear faint alarm calls from another herd of impalas in the distance. Before I could say anything else my instinct kicks in and I’m already driving steadily in that direction. The winter morning air is thin and still, making the alarm sounds seem closer than they are. After searching a few areas to no avail we find the herd; they’re all distressed and looking intently toward a thicket. In that thicket we see the male leopard.
The Flat Rock male is moving away from the impala, trying not to draw too much attention to himself. He moves out of the thicket and into an open clearing. Ecstatic at our find, we follow him as he walks. He then picks up the scent of another leopard and becomes aggravated. He gives off the saw-like rasping call of a territorial male. He scent marks aggressively and rolls around in the soil and grass beneath him.
He calls again. Then… a response! Another leopard is calling close by. After another few bouts of calling an even larger male leopard appears from the bush. He sits atop a termite mound for a while and watches the smaller Flat Rock male. He is already salivating at the presence of an enemy. It is the Inyathini male. The two of them growl and call and scent mark at a distance away from one another. Then they walk, side by side, only thirty feet apart, calling and growling at one another. They walk for almost mile like this through the thick bush as we follow behind.
What a relief, they move into a clearing (and I still have a fully functioning vehicle). They are getting closer to one another as they walk. The Flat Rock male starts to run… the Inyathini male then runs along side him. He breaks into a sprint and we lose them in another dense thicket. We are all thinking “Come on, we can’t lose them now!” As I pull through a cluster of bushes we see them on the ground together in a clash of claws, growls, bites and dust.
“They are going to kill each other!” someone shouted from the vehicle. The sound of the growls reverberate through the vehicle as we sit there watching a spectacle so rare.
They break off; the larger male leopard is hurt. He is bleeding from his shoulder and limping as he walks away. He is exhausted. The Flat Rock Male is the victor – seemingly – but is also exhausted and falls into a heap in the grass close by.
Finally, at a distance the Inyathini male deems safe, he lies on the track, his back bleeding and in pain. He has lost this battle. He is larger and maybe stronger than the Flat Rock male, but he is older and – it seemed – slower. If he wants to keep pushing into the Flat Rock male’s territory, he is going to have to do it using another tactic!