chasing. climbing. fighting.

As I left my house I was greeted by the sweet smell of wet soil after a small shower through the night. With no guests to drive and the responsibility of keeping the social media up to date, I headed out into the bush for a bit of photography and some well deserved me time after a long busy cycle. I moved towards the area where the guys had been trying to track down 2 male lions that had moved all the way through the reserve during the night. Skittish wildebeest greeted me as I went and tracks painted a story of chaos and attack but the lions were nowhere to be seen and were more than likely chewing on their latest victim.

lioness in a tree

As the time slowly approached 9am and my tummy started to cry for some breakfast, the sounds of hyena whooping a battle cry echoed over the bush. Jabu was the first to respond and I was hot on his heels. It wasn’t 5 minutes later when Jabu called over the radio that he had found a lioness balancing precariously in a Marula tree about 4 metres from the earth. I could not believe my eyes as the lioness tried to stay in her highly uncomfortable perch in the tree. I could hear the nearby squabbling as the hyenas devoured the remains of the waterbuck kill.

lioness in a tree

Before we got to the sighting the hyenas had managed to chase off the two Southern Pride lionesses that were enjoying their meal. In the aggression of the whole thing the one lioness had decided to head for higher ground whilst the other turned tail and ran. The hyenas came back to make sure the lioness was still stuck in the tree and let her know that they were waiting for her when she decided to come down.

hyena chasing lion at Sabi Sabi Private Game reserve

After about an hour sitting watching the interaction I heard something moving in the grass and when I looked up I saw the other lioness returning to the battle zone. She waltzed up to the tree, gave a contact call to her sister and then marched straight back towards the kill. I was now stuck between a rock and a hard place trying to decide whether I wanted to stay and see if the lioness would come down from the tree or follow the other one back to where the hyenas were. I sat there pondering too long and Mother Nature decided to bring the action to me. The loud growls of the lioness where followed by loud whopping as 6 hyenas turned and started to chase the lioness right past my vehicle.

lioness in a tree

The hyenas stopped briefly to have a look at the stranded tree-climbing lioness before the matriarch led the rest of the clan straight towards the more accessible lioness. The lioness stood her ground as the marauding hyenas approached with their sinister war cry now belting across the grasslands, the lioness’ low growls reverberated through me as I watched what would turn out to be the most incredible sight. The lioness bit down hard on the first hyena but the rest of the clan came in from behind. She flailed her paws desperately hoping to make contact with whoever was closest, hyenas jaws clamped down onto the lioness but her speed allowed them only a split second to inflict damage as she spun with unbelievable speed to attack her aggressors.

lioness in a tree after been chased by hyena at Sabi Sabi Luxury Safari Lodges

The lioness made another break for it with the hyenas still in hot pursuit. I followed as best I could through the thick bush, arriving a thicket of Round-leafed Teak where the lioness had sought refuge. The hyenas piled in but were less bold as they could not see her properly. Again they attacked and again she dealt out a number of blows. All I could see were bushes being thrown around as if a tornado had settled over them. The noise was outrageous as the hyenas attacked and whooped and the lioness stood her ground, fighting for her life. Eventually everything calmed down to a panic as the hyenas left, all bloodied from their battle with an eternal enemy. The hyenas settled back into what was left of the kill before walking triumphantly back to their den leaving the carcass unattended.

The lioness never came out of the thicket so I unfortunately did not see the extent of her injuries and I decided to leave her in peace so as not to stress her out any further. My attentions turned again to the lioness in the tree that had now climbed even higher and was about 6 metres off the ground. She looked incredibly uncomfortable but content to wait it out in the safety of a Marula tree.

Eventually she decided it was time to come down and in between slipping and sliding and holding on for dear life she eventually managed to claw her way down the tree. Once she got down she bolted off away from danger. As soon as she had moved off we moved up toward the carcass only to find Nottins female leopard moving in to see if there was anything for her. While we watched her there was a sudden flick of a tail near by and Maxabeni popped in for a look of his own. His arrival sent Nottins’ hormones into overdrive and she thought she would give it a second try to get him to mate with her. Again she tried and failed as he rejected all her advances and this went on for another three hours before they went into thick bush and we decided to leave them be.

leopard at sabi sabi while on safari

By the time the evening had arrived our vehicles started descending on the area to see what had happened since we left. By the time I got back into the sighting there were now 3 leopards there as Sandriver had moved in for a bite to eat on the scraps of the carcass. This however was going to be tough because the hyenas were back again. Nottins kept trying to seduce Maxabeni who still was not keen and Sandriver ate on the carcass 40 metres from them. Eventually the hyenas got fed up with the idea of three leopards hanging around and started to chase them and they managed to tree two of the three leopards and sent the other one packing. What an incredible day here at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve!!!

leopard with a kill

leopard at sabi sabi while on safari

by: Richard de Gouveia (Little Bush Camp ranger)


  1. rosie says

    Poor Nottins, two males and neither was interested ! I think she needs to move and find some leopards with more testosterone 😉 Fantastic sighting Richard !

  2. shirley says

    I mean, very good writing, but very heart stopping, Your words may me more scared than the video. Richard where is the other Lioness?

  3. wendy hawkins says

    Oh my goodness Richard, what a “tough” day you had! Its so nice that you can have a chill day like that. Thanks for sharing.

  4. wendy hawkins says

    I have just watched the video! WOW! that was amazing – that lioness was lucky to get away from that bunch and how obvious that lions are not meant to climb trees!!! Thanks you have just made my day!

  5. Jai Singh says

    What an Eventful Story of a unique interaction (at least for me)….the Photograph of the lioness clinging on to the tree with it’s paws in the branch of the tree is the most dramatic moment…it really shows the intensity of the situation.

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