On a recent morning game drive, we were on our way across to join ranger Kate in a sighting, when her voice crackled over the radio,
“Dan, move it up!”
Basically in a nutshell, when you hear this over the radio no matter who you are, your excitement levels shoot through the roof. It means that whatever was happening in the sighting has escalated and unless one arrives pretty soon you may miss out on the action.
My right foot fell heavier on the accelerator, as the anticipation built across the vehicle.
We were on our way to the Nweti Male Leopard digging into a burrow in a termite mound.
If male leopards could share their culinary preferences, I have a feeling that they would undoubtedly place warthogs at the top of their list. Judging by the frequency with which we observe male leopards inspecting warthog burrows during their daily patrols and their unmistakable enthusiasm when they detect one of these creatures inside, it’s safe to say that warthogs are preferred prey for these elusive predators.
Rather than delving into lengthy paragraphs trying to describe this once-in-a-lifetime sighting, I’ll let this series of images do it for me. After spending a full hour with the Nweti Male there were a few key themes that stood out while he showcased the remarkable patience, skill, and determination that wild predators like him must employ to secure a meal of this kind.
SCENE #1 – Bravery
This was our initial view of the leopard as we arrived at the sighting. The Nweti Male was fervently digging into the mound, at times disappearing from view as he dug deeper. We could hear the warthog inside, its presence undeniable. When leopards attempt to extract warthogs from their burrows, they must exercise extreme caution. Warthogs have a tendency to reverse into the holes in the mound, ensuring that their weaponry on their faces in the forms of tusks is facing towards the entrance where the danger would approach from. Preparing for precisely these types of situations where they can now use their tusks to defend against potential threats.
SCENE #2 – Patience
Digging into a mound can be incredibly exhausting, especially when contending with a large, dangerous warthog pushing back at you simultaneously. After observing the leopard’s relentless digging for a good 15 minutes, he chose to take a brief break, resting beside the burrow. Perhaps he hoped the warthog might attempt to make a break for it and venture out from the safety of its burrow.
SCENE #3 – Out-smart
After waiting and regaining a bit of his strength, the Nweti Male displayed remarkable intelligence, clearly not his first rodeo. With no sign or sound of the warthog for a while, content within the safety of its burrow, the leopard opted to move a little further away, possibly hoping that this would give it a false sense of security and entice it out. The Nweti Male backed up by a couple of meters and patiently waited, still fixated on his goal.
Shortly after, we witnessed him cautiously edging closer to the burrow. His plan had proven successful; the warthog was gradually venturing nearer to the entrance. With measured, stealthy steps, the Nweti Male advanced even closer to the burrow.
SCENE #4 – Speed and Power
In a split second, if you had blinked, you would have missed it. The Nweti Male swiftly plunged into the burrow’s opening, catching the warthog by surprise again. This time with no escape or way out, the leopard’s strength was too immense for the warthog. The breathtaking speed and power of this male leopard are remarkable.
SCENE #5 – Experience
Many times before, this leopard must have found himself in similar situations. It was fascinating to observe how, with his jaws firmly gripping the warthog, he purposefully moved away from the burrow’s entrance. I think at this stage there was no risk of him losing the warthog now firmly locked in his jaws, but by remaining near to the entrance he runs the risk of any other panicked warthogs trying to flee the mound, running into him and likely injuring him with their tusks, or causing him to let go of his meal and potentially losing it.
SCENE #6 – Killing blow
After moving away from the burrow’s entrance, the leopard assumed the killing position, clamping his jaws around the warthog’s throat, preventing it from breathing. In other instances of witnessing warthogs being killed by predators, it has often been a harrowing experience. However, in this case, it was relatively swift, with very few distress calls from the warthog. In just a few minutes, it was all over, and the leopard had successfully secured his meal.
SCENE #7 – Taking it to safety
The sounds of the kill would undoubtedly attract any lurking scavengers. Therefore, as soon as the Nweti Male was confident that the warthog was dead, he realized the need to move it to a safer area for feeding. The warthog was a substantial one, and he must have dragged it for about 100 meters. Every 10-15 meters, he paused to catch his breath. Eventually, he arrived at a drainage line where he believed it would be relatively safe to begin his meal.
Leopards typically start feeding on heavier prey on the ground, and once the weight is somewhat reduced, they may decide to hoist it into the canopy of a tree.
The Nweti Male’s remarkable display of intelligence, speed, power and precision in securing this warthog was a sensational sighting for all of us on the vehicle. Indeed, it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to observe this warthog hunting masterpiece. The encounter was nothing short of magnificent. I hope you enjoyed the series of images and stay tuned for this exhilarating sighting in a video that Kate and Equaliser managed to capture.