A further look into the unbelievable video of a lioness climbing into a tree after a female leopard with a kill.
We set off on an early morning game drive before sunrise with little expectation as to what we were going to see. The previous few drives had been amazing and I would be happy with whatever came our way. We knew that the Plaque Rock female leopard had an impala kill hoisted in a marula tree nearby, and my tracker Lucky and I decided to structure our drive around that.
A pretty young playful female found along the river to the east of camp
We arrived at the sighting with Ranger Josh and Tracker Jerry along with their guests. This was actually Josh’s last game drive at Londolozi, and what a thrilling last drive it was going to be! The Plaque Rock female was already in the marula tree with her kill. What incredible strength – being able to drag a carcass weighing as much as her own body into a tree. Shortly after we had positioned our vehicle the leopardess stood up, fixated on something beyond our vehicle.
It’s a strange thing, but without intentionally knowing it, we found ourselves glancing into the distance to see what had caught her attention. She was evidently on edge and did not shift her gaze. Lucky and I thought there could be another leopard that had caught her interest. This was a strong possibility given she had a kill stolen by her mother just a week before. It is known that if a rival leopard is seen, it triggers a response in the leopard causing them to start salivating. The Plaque Rock female was not yet salivating. Lucky noticed some movement in the distance, “It’s the lions”…
The Plaque Rock female took the impala kill in her mouth and ascended even higher into the marula tree. The three lionesses, who were approaching the tree in single file, had their gaze fixed on the meal hoisted above them.
This in itself was an amazing sighting, two species of big cats in the same place. We had so many questions running through our minds; “will she climb the tree?” and “what will the Plaque Rock female do if she does?”. Initially, I thought this would be unlikely but soon I noticed the lioness was fairly hungry and the tree was not that difficult to climb. Lionesses can climb pretty well but are not as sure-footed and comfortable as leopards in trees, however Lucky had no doubt and said “she is going to climb the tree”.
Sure enough, a few seconds later, she leapt up to the first notch in the trunk, steadying herself before ascending higher. The two other lionesses eagerly waited below.
It was fascinating to observe her climbing the tree. She was certainly not as nimble and efficient as the Plaque Rock female leopard, but for a lioness of her size, she made short work of getting into the lower branches. The end goal was just out of reach for her and you could almost see her trying to problem solve just how she would get to the Plaque Rock female and the kill.
The Plaque Rock female, now concealed from our view by the leaves of the upper canopy, began to aggressively growl as a last attempt to keep the lioness away. We thought all she was after was the kill and couldn’t help but think how she would get down afterward, as we know lions can often be rather clumsy and awkward when descending a tree.
Weighing up the different options and routes, the lioness traced the branch from the leopard down. She knew where it would lead her and began climbing. Wrapping each paw around the branch, she pulled herself towards where the leopard and carcass were and she too started to growl aggressively. The entire tree was shaking as this lioness propelled towards the leopard. At this point, we realized that she was not only after the kill…
A flash of terror washed over me as my mind raced to the possibility of the lioness killing this leopard.
If you watch closely you can actually see that the lioness is standing over the kill and is in fact swatting her deadly paws at the leopard. Once she managed to get hold of the leopard, who also fought back, she lost her balance and tumbled to the side. During this intense altercation, thankfully the branch could not sustain their combined weight and broke under the tension, leaving the two animals plummeting towards the ground from about six meters high.
They say all cats land on their feet, this theory was somewhat questionable for the lioness, but we witnessed a perfect landing for the leopard, who within a split second bounced to her feet and darted off towards another tree. Thankfully the loud crack of the branch breaking sent the two lionesses waiting on the ground running in the opposite direction. After the ungraceful landing of the lioness, she quickly turned to try and see where the leopard was. By this point, the Plaque Rock female was scampering into another nearby tree.
The expressions on Ranger Josh and Tracker Jerry’s faces were of utter disbelief! I am sure Lucky and I had mirroring expressions too.
It’s hard to explain the feeling after witnessing this sighting. If I had to I would say it was a mixture of utter surprise, elation, and shock. Without saying a word, the four of us just raised our arms in the air as though we were victorious in some way. I realized afterward that we were victorious, victorious in the sense of fortune. We were so unbelievably fortunate to have witnessed something as remarkable as this interaction between two incredible animals. Thanks to one of our Londolozi guests on my vehicle, Sandra Guichard (who is probably quite famous now) for capturing this interaction on video, and letting us share it with all of you.
Not to mention – what a perfect last drive for Josh!