Recently we were treated to an amazing display of acrobatics by the Nkoveni young female as she successfully hunted a vervet monkey way up in the branches of a Tamboti tree.
It was one of the hottest days of the year so far with temperatures still sitting at over 40 degrees Celsius (104 F) at 16:00 when we set off for our guests’ first game drive on their first ever safari.
Despite the heat, excitement levels were high and we soon found ourselves surrounded by a large herd of elephants and a lone giraffe bull some 200 meters outside of camp. It was a great start, especially considering that animals are often rather inactive and can be quite scarce in the heat. We spent about 15 or 20 minutes viewing the large mammals but soon decided to move along so as to get a cool breeze on our faces again as the elephants slowly ambled into a thick area. We hadn’t even been driving again for two minutes when, as I was relaying our plan for the afternoon to our new guests, tracker Milton Khoza suddenly exclaimed to the vehicle, “Leopard! Over there!”. He pointed along the road ahead of us, and sure as could be, through the mirage created by the heat, there was a young female leopard sniffing her way around the base of a tree alongside the road. We couldn’t believe our luck!
As we made our closer we realised what had grabbed her attention. Stranded in the upper branches of the tree was a young vervet monkey. My mind was immediately cast back to a sighting that I had had about a month ago with the very same leopard where we found her chasing a troop of vervet monkeys around the open branches of a Weeping Boerbean tree. We watched her for ages that morning as she persisted in trying to catch one but was unsuccessful. I was amazed by the behaviour as it has not often been recorded that leopards hunt actively in trees. Despite being phenomenally agile and strong in the branches, the lighter and more nimble monkey should, in theory, make an easy getaway.
But back to the present sighting…
We sat in great anticipation as the Nkoveni young female ascended the tree while the monkey frantically alarm called from the top. A gradual game of cat and mouse developed, with the leopard maintaining the upper hand as expected. The leopard would leap from branch to branch, clinging on with only her front claws in some instances but all to no avail. She was exerting herself a great deal and using up precious energy. She would pause for a few brief moments to catch her breath and plan her next move and then leap forward again. After one long pause – after which I had even said to my guests that I felt she was fighting a losing battle – she had one last explosion of energy.
She launched herself at the monkey, which narrowly made it down the tree and past the leopard. The monkey then (fatefully) for some reason leaped right back into the same tree. Given that we were in a rather open space, the monkey may have felt more vulnerable on the ground and decided that its safer bet was to continue tiring out the leopard in the same tree. Nonetheless, the monkey shot up the main, left hand branch of the tree, still followed in hot pursuit by the leopard who wasn’t ready to give up!
As the monkey reached the top of the branch it realized that the leopard was now approaching fast from below. In a last effort to evade the hunter, the monkey made a jump across towards the right hand branch of the tree but was acrobatically intercepted in mid-air by the young leopard who was now fully airborne at the top of the tree! Both leopard and monkey came crashing down through the thicker lower branches and eventually dropped down at the base. The monkey was already dead, firmly in the jaws of the leopard who sauntered off as if what had just happened was all in a day’s work! I couldn’t believe it.
Bearing in mind that this was all within the first 30 minutes of my guests’ first safari, they were blown away and I firmly reassured them that this is not the usual standard of sightings that we would expect over the next three days! Fellow ranger Sandros Sihlangu – who was the only other ranger in the sighting that day, and who has been working at Londolozi as a ranger for over 25 years – said to me that it could be the most unbelievable thing he has seen! Needless to say I’ve been struggling to top that day ever since!
Video filmed by Londolozi Guest Stephanie McConnell